'Furlough': Film Review
Tessa Thompson and Melissa Leo star in this comedy about a prison guard escorting an inmate on a 36-hour "deathbed visit."
Resembling a distaff variation on The Last Detail minus the laughs and drama, Furlough wastes the talents of lead actresses Tessa Thompson and Melissa Leo as well as several estimable supporting players. The episodic comedy, directed by Laurie Collyer (Sherrybaby) and scripted by Barry Strugatz, depicts the misadventures of a rookie prison guard and the female inmate she's escorting on a 36-hour "deathbed visit." Unfortunately, it does so via a sitcom-style sensibility that is not only unfunny but also ruins the film's sporadic attempts at emotion.
The story begins with Nicole (Thompson), an uptight part-time guard at an upstate New York prison, being assigned by the warden (Erik Griffin) to escort a prisoner, Joan (Leo), on a trip to see her dying mother in Long Island. Nicole is reluctant to accept, as she has the primary responsibility of caring for her own infirm mother (Whoopi Goldberg), who's not shy about expressing her dismay. "What if I die?" her mother asks.
Despite the apparently tragic circumstances, Joan, who's been locked up for years for armed robbery, seems delighted to be making the road trip. Things don't start out well, however, as the driver of the bus on which they plan to begin the journey is reluctant to take a shackled prisoner aboard. "I'm the captain of this ship," he tells Nicole, who nonetheless manages to persuade him.
Things only go downhill from there, with Nicole receiving constant phone calls and texts from both her mother and her scolding sister (La La Anthony), who resents Nicole's absence. After finally arriving in Manhattan, a train delay results in the duo having to kill several hours. Nicole indulges her prisoner's requests for a fast food meal, a visit to a beauty parlor and, finally, a stop at an AA meeting. In the process, Joan manages to sneak off and join a sex addicts meeting, where she quickly hooks up with a horny veterinarian (Edgar Ramirez, wasted) who takes her to his apartment where they indulge in some wild times on his sex swing.
After Nicole finally tracks down her escaped prisoner, the movie takes a more dramatic turn. When the two women finally arrive at their destination, it's revealed that Joan had a wealthy upbringing and that she gave up a baby daughter for adoption many years earlier. Her dying mother insists that she sign an agreement stipulating that if she makes any attempt to contact her now-grown daughter she'll be deprived of her inheritance. It isn't hard to guess that before the film ends there'll be a reunion of sorts between Joan and the daughter (Anna Paquin) she's never met.
Nothing in the film gels. Goldberg's wacky mother character proves far more irritating than endearing. Joan's high-spiritedness, meant to characterize her as a force of nature, is similarly off-putting, and Nicole's repressiveness becomes simply boring. The attempts at broad comedy don't come off, and the story doesn't engage on a realistic level, either. It's also impossible to believe that Nicole, who's desperate to land a full-time position, would take such chances as unshackling her prisoner and leaving her alone. Not to mention running off to a pharmacy to fill a prescription as Joan pretends to have a seizure.
Despite these shortcomings in the characters as written, Thompson and Leo bring natural appeal and charisma to the film, and the latter in particular proves yet again that she's incapable of giving a bad performance. But their work just isn't enough to do more than occasionally lift Furlough to a higher level. Instead, the formulaic writing and stilted direction conspire to bring the movie, and these talents, down time and time again.
Production companies: EFC Films, Furlough Productions
Distributor: IFC Films
Cast: Tessa Thompson, Melissa Leo, Whoopi Goldberg, Anna Paquin, Edgar Ramirez, La La Anthony, Erik Griffin
Director: Laurie Collyer
Screenwriter: Barry Strugatz
Producers: Jen Gatien, Melissa Leo
Executive producers: Carole Meiselman, Jennifer Dong, Figo Li, James Schamus, Joe Pirro, James W. Skotchdopol
Director of photography: Berenice Eveno
Production designer: Jesika Farkas
Editor: Jesse Gordon
Composer: Jeff Cardoni
Costume designer: Rachaell Dama
Casting: Amy Hutchings
Rated R, 83 minutes