‘After Words’: Film Review
Oscar-winner Marcia Gay Harden stars as a single Los Angeles librarian who discovers adventure and romance in Costa Rica.
Making his feature debut after a substantial career in other filmmaking roles, director Juan Feldman delivers an awkward dramedy that hews closely to TV-movie conventions in its account of a distraught middle-aged woman seeking escape from her unremarkable life. With Marcia Gay Harden in the lead, the film clearly aspires to theatrical validation, although smaller screens may prove more suitable for this day-and-date release.
It’s no coincidence that Jane Taylor (Harden) departs for Costa Rica the day after getting laid off from her position as a Los Angeles city librarian. What her few acquaintances don’t know is that after a brief holiday, Jane is planning to kill herself, despairing at the apparent purposelessness of her life. Single, 50ish, with a mat of long unkempt hair, granny glasses and a distinct absence of personal style, it may not seem like plain Jane has much to live for, other than her beloved cat. In Costa Rica she can die practically unnoticed, rather than returning to her monumentally uneventful lifestyle.
Once she reaches the Central American country renowned for its natural beauty and laidback lifestyle, the tropical vibe begins to erode her determination. A brief jungle tour with younger local guide and single father Juan (Oscar Jaenada) opens her eyes to Costa Rica’s abundant wildlife and flora, although she remains unaware that Juan’s primary source of income involves bedding single foreign women on holiday to support his daughter Anna’s (Jenna Ortega) private schooling. Far behind on his payments, Juan gets an unpleasant wake-up call when the school principal demands he settle his account in short order. With nowhere to turn for a quick infusion of cash, he proposes to guide Jane on a week-long tour of the country in return for a substantial fee, but first she’ll have to decide if she’s willing to live a little, literally.
Extricating a protagonist from such an awkward situation requires either plotting imaginatively or falling back on commonplace cliches. Feldman opts for the latter, indulging in comfortably familiar, romance-novel melodrama. Working with screenwriter and filmmaker Joel Silverman (Nailed), Feldman seeks to craft a transformative adventure for Jane, but in actuality the customized package tour that Juan leads for her is fairly tame by Costa Rica standards. Whether Jane owes her eventual transformation to her eye-opening travel experience or more to a badly needed makeover and Juan’s encouragement to try cutting loose for a change is perhaps debatable.
Harden easily pulls off Jane’s frumpy to fabulous transformation with understatement and compassion, but the transition is so stereotypically handled by Silverman’s script that it becomes almost wholly unremarkable. Spanish actor Jaenada (Cantinflas) provides so much boundless energy and frequent comic relief to counter Jane’s burden of lethargy that it’s almost as if he’s strategically popping in from a completely different movie.
Feldman attractively packages the production, relying substantially on Costa Rica’s inherent natural charm, Salvador Lleo De La Fe’s lighthearted lensing and a soundtrack dominated by carefree tropical tunes.
Production companies: Mano a Mano Films, Classic Pictures
Cast: Marcia Gay Harden, Oscar Jaenada, Jenna Ortega, Ron Canada, Jackie Torres
Director: Juan Feldman
Screenwriter: Joel Silverman
Producers: Juan Feldman, Christian Calderon, Shannon Campbell
Executive producers: Olga Disima De Loyo, Salvador Lleo De La Fe, Ana Lisa Meltrozo
Director of photography: Salvador Lleo De La Fe
Production designer: Celine Diano
Costume designer: Shannon Campbell
Editor: Christian Calderon
Music: Andrew Gross
Casting: Mary Vernieu, Venus Kanani
No rating, 91 minutes