Baraboo -- Film Review

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EDINBURGH -- A sleepy corner of the Badger State is explored in writer-director-editor Mary Sweeney's well-meaning but underwhelming Wisconsin chronicle "Baraboo."

A small-scale study of ordinary people, focusing on a single mother and her tearaway son, this lo-fi story told via high-def video will find festival berths primarily thanks to Sweeney's name, particularly her association with her former professional and romantic partner David Lynch -- she edited four of his more recent features and co-wrote "The Straight Story" -- rather than its own merits. Commercial prospects are slim to zero in the current tough climate, though some audiences will no doubt respond to its soapy, slightly hokey charms.

Given Sweeney's background, it's ironic that "Baraboo," a benign and therefore pointedly non-Lynchian view of small-town eccentricities, should feel in need of further trimming. Sweeney might have been better advised to bring in another editor who didn't feel quite so much protective warmth towards her creations.

First among equals is Jane (Brenda DeVita), who runs a rural motel and gas-station while coping with the growing-pains of troublesome but essentially decent Chris (Harry Loeffler-Bell). The drama, such as it is, revolves around the arrival at the motel of flinty senior-citizen Bernice (Ruth Schudson), a seen-it-all type who dispenses life-lesson advice to anyone who'll listen.

Sweeney is indulgent of her characters' foibles and faults, ensuring that nothing too traumatic happens to them during the course of the narrative. Several of their back-stories are, however, tragedy-tinged, and the cast, mostly drawn from local theater, turn in pretty solid work.

They're often upstaged by Baraboo itself. Sweeney's leafy native state looks so alluringly sun-dappled via documentary-specialist Shana Hagan's crisp digital cinematography. That said, several night sequences are underlit, making it hard to see what's going on. The deployment of brief, experimental-type shots of trees and forests to punctuate the narrative feels more mannered than organic. Joel E Savoy's intrusive score is an even bigger drawback, unhelpfully underlining each last bittersweet development.

Venue: Edinburgh Film Festival