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Overall Rating
3.69

Awesome: 29.31%
Worth A Look: 25.86%
Average31.03%
Pretty Bad: 12.07%
Total Crap: 1.72%

7 reviews, 16 user ratings


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Off the Map
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by EricDSnider

"A rather charming drama, set in rural New Mexico. (There's a NEW Mexico?!)"
4 stars

"Off the Map," which premiered at Sundance in 2003, is a quintessential Sundance movie. Its plot is simple, its artsy, quirky characters relate to each other in unusual ways, and its theme deals with the vague notion of "navigating through life." If pressed, I could name 20 other movies fitting that description that I've seen at Sundance.

Which is not a criticism, necessarily, but merely an observation. "Off the Map" is actually a rather charming drama, albeit a talky one. It has some smart, fine-tuned performances and is directed by Campbell Scott, who is a smart, fine-tuned actor himself, so there you go.

Framed by an unnecessary present-day focus on the now-grown-up narrator (played by Amy Brenneman), the film is actually set in 1974 on a remote homestead in Taos, N.M. It is home to the Groden family -- parents Charley (Sam Elliott) and Arlene (Joan Allen), and their 12-year-old daughter Bo (Valentina de Angelis) -- who live a peaceful, existence "off the map," as Bo puts it. They have no indoor plumbing, telephone or television. They live off trinkets that Arlene makes and sells in town, and most of their food they grow, hunt or reel in themselves.

Bo is reaching an age where such a life is no longer interesting, and she longs to go to a public school. Her hippie mother (who gardens in the nude) has bigger worries at the moment, though, as Charley has suffered from a profound depression for several weeks, unable to function and barely willing to speak. Arlene enlists Charley's best friend, the slightly dim George (J.K. Simmons), to help her in obtaining medication for him, but she wonders if he'd even be willing to take it. Even today, manly men such as Charley don't often admit they need pharmaceutical help for emotional problems; you can imagine what it was like in 1974.

In the midst of all this, the Grodens are visited by William Gibbs (Jim True-Frost), a tax auditor sent by the I.R.S. to determine why the Grodens have not paid taxes in several years. The reason is simply that they don't have any real income to speak of, but William -- a nice, polite man who is immediately smitten with the lovely Arlene -- must do his duty and make the necessary reports. He timidly enters the Groden home, unsure what sort of people these are with no phone or toilet, and then falls ill, lapsing into a three-day fever and semi-coma. When he awakens, he feels differently about life and wants to share this rural, communal existence with the Grodens.

Adapted by Joan Ackermann from her stage play (hence the talkiness), the film's performances are its greatest assets. Sam Elliott, so cowboyish in his demeanor and voice, is a brilliant choice to play Charley because he is exactly the sort of man you would not expect to be grappling with clinical depression. Elliott plays the role perfectly, slightly stylized (do depressed people really just refuse to speak altogether?), and with a palpable sadness about him.

He is supported by the other leads, all of whom function smoothly as a cast and as individuals. Even the film's setting feels like a character, the beautiful desert landscapes New Mexico evoking thoughts of loneliness and isolation. It makes the eventual resolution of the family's problems seem all the more sweet and satisfying.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=6817&reviewer=247
originally posted: 03/14/05 09:28:52
[printer] printer-friendly format  
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Starz Denver Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Chicago Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Deep Focus Film Fest For more in the 2005 Deep Focus Film Fest series, click here.

User Comments

8/29/13 Tammy Woodall Different, but real. Great acting. 4 stars
6/23/10 Tina Corry Have seen it three times and want to see it again! 5 stars
8/31/08 PAUL SHORTT FLAT, POINTLESS RAMBLING FILM 2 stars
8/04/06 mike norwood a truly unique film............worth buying and watching again and again 5 stars
6/20/06 keri ross awe inspiring. i immediately went back to the vid store and asked if i could buy it. i did. 5 stars
12/11/05 Brian Excellent 5 stars
12/02/05 George A wonderful film,great acting - see it, its worth it 5 stars
4/15/05 Frank Holmes A wonderfully-engaging filme 4 stars
3/27/05 C. Donovan Awakened the "Tahiti Syndrome" in me! 5 stars
11/01/04 Jim Walker one of the most loving films i've ever seen 5 stars
10/10/04 J.J.Grodon the Puppeter very intriguing and moved me to read the screenplay 4 stars
10/20/03 shannon loved it! don't miss this one. a must see. 5 stars
10/13/03 Michael Barrett Intensely Besutiful, can't wait to see it again!! 5 stars
1/31/03 joe smith it sucks 1 stars
1/28/03 Tom Principe I saw it at Sundance....all I can say is it was the best I've seen, including the majors. 5 stars
1/27/03 M. Boyle The Actual Star of Sundance 2003 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  11-Mar-2005 (PG-13)
  DVD: 09-Aug-2005

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