The Sublime and Beautiful: Slamdance Review

A first-time filmmaker’s dour drama over-reaches at multiple levels. 

TV vet Blake Robbins writes, directs and stars in this moralistic Kansas-set tale.

In choosing to take on multiple creative tasks in his first outing as a feature writer-director, multi-hyphenate Blake Robbins mis-calibrates both the tone and narrative trajectory of the film. Regional festivals may take an interest in programming the Midwestern title following on its Slamdance Narrative Features Competition premiere; digital platforms offer the best options otherwise.

College professor David Conrad (Robbins) maintains an outwardly comfortable family life while cheating on his wife Kelly (Laura Kirk) with pretty, young Katie (Anastasia Baranova) and neglecting his three preteen kids. One December night when he’s out with Katie as Kelly drives home from a Christmas-tree trimming party, drunk driver Lee Westin (Armin Shimerman) crashes into Kelly’s car, killing all three children.

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The tragedy plunges the Conrads into inconsolable grief, compounded by anger when Westin, a local resident, is set free on bail in their home town. David descends into silent fury, withdrawing from his wife, parents and most acquaintances. Kelly struggles to escape her sense of guilt and looming depression, but is susceptible to bouts of rage herself. David barely recognizes the extremity of his emotional crisis when he first contemplates suicide, then revenge against Westin while starting to drink heavily and frequently. An unexpected twist of fate may offer a chance at some kind of redemption, if only he can pull himself back from his violent fantasies of retribution.

Robbins scripts David as a regular family man who’s taciturn to a fault – not really the type that makes a sympathetic parent or a plausible lover for an attractive younger woman. Kelly barely has much more to say, other than grieving for her kids or verbally attacking her husband.

The sparseness of dialogue throughout the film gradually becomes oppressive, which seems more unintentional than deliberate, contributing to the starkly deterministic, moralizing tone that consistently underscores the narrative, further emphasized by a frequent focus on the effects of alcohol consumption and repetitive scenes of David unproductively visiting a church in a state of despair. As a result, “sublime” hardly seems to describe the incremental character development on display.

A glaring plot hole late in the second act manages to relieve the narrative tension, but in such a mundane manner that the outcome barely seems worth remarking upon. As director, Robbins’ skills are serviceable rather than distinctive, further limited by the film’s obvious budgetary constraints. 

Venue: Slamdance Film Festival, Narrative Features Competition

Production company: Sublime Pictures

Cast: Blake Robbins, Laura Kirk, Matthew Del Negro, Armin Shimerman, Anastasia Baranova

Director/screenwriter: Blake Robbins

Producers: Warren Ostergard, Marci Liroff, Grant Fitch, Kevin M. Slee, James B. Cox, Blake Robbins, Jon Niccum

Executive producers: Laura Kirk, Bob Meiers, Kevin Willmott, Chris Blunk, Maggie Dixon, Steve Dixon, Jeremy Osbern

Director of photography: Lyn Moncrief

Production Designer: Misti Boland

Music: Lili Hadyn

Editor: Jennifer Vecchiarello

Sales: Vitamin A Films

No rating, 93 minutes

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