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Natural Causes
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by Jason Whyte

"Nice little indie drama that I hope will find an audience."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2008 SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FESTIVAL: As someone who recently ended a rather intense relationship, I really connected with the hardships that the lead characters in the indie-picture “Natural Causes” go through. From the beginning thrills of finding someone new through to the bitter fights that can lead to breakup, the film is difficult to sit through at times, but I admired its honesty and style from beginning to end as we follow young love going through the motions.

As the story begins, Michael (Jerzy Gwiazdowski) is in a relationship with Shaina (Shonda Leigh Robbins) and it is going well. However, when we are introduced to the lovely Cera (Leah Goldstein), Michael becomes interested. It is a casual flirtation and a slow build, but eventually Michael and Cera find themselves drawn to one another.

What’s very insightful about the film is how it connects us to David and Cara. We are a fly on the wall as we witness their real conversations as well as in the bedroom (Some could call this an addition to the “Mumblecore” movement, which is a term that was thrown around a lot at this year’s South by Southwest).When a fight erupts, we almost feel like we have to turn away since we’re spying on the argument. As the story unspools, we begin to witness a divide between the two lovers, that both are bringing their own emotional baggage into the relationships, causing the rift. It becomes incredibly hard to deal with, and thus the fall begins. Anyone who has been through a breakup could possibly relate to what the two protagonists go through here.

The film has an unusual trio of directors. Brothers Alex and Paul Cannon, along with Michael Lerman, have an interesting independent style at their grasp. Utilizing long takes, hand held camera movement, a surprisingly good soundtrack (Broken Social Scene even makes it!) and even a few crash edits here and there. I really liked a sequence where David and Cera’s first date is only a few quick cuts of food being prepared and consumed before leading into the bedroom. Because of this, we really find ourselves in the skin of this relationship, warts and all. There’s even a bizarre moment of explicit nudity as the couple play a Nintendo Wii; now there’s a bit product placement for you!

The performances are excellent, in particular Gwiazdowski and Goldstein, who are a couple in reality. I have met characters like David before, and it is nice to see a mature and wise performance by Gwiazdowski. Goldstein is a unique beauty; tiny and thin as a rail but with a strong presence and piercing eyes that put you in your place. It probably helps that they are together off screen, too.

“Natural Causes” is a fine piece of work and an indie film done right. It is a bold look at relationships and sometimes a bit TOO in our face, but it is still a well done piece of work. It is far from perfect (there’s a bizarre argument between the broken-up Michael and Shaina halfway through the film that could have easily been excised), and its small budget and lack of star power might hurt its chances on finding a wider audience, but it is a film that, I think, will be discovered down the road and will find its fans.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=17192&reviewer=350
originally posted: 04/04/08 17:14:34
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2008 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

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