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Overall Rating

Awesome: 28.81%
Worth A Look: 25.42%
Pretty Bad: 11.86%
Total Crap: 3.39%

7 reviews, 17 user ratings

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Off the Map
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by Aaron West

"Unrealistic, unfocused .. completely off the map."
2 stars

Within the first 15 minutes, you can tell exactly what type of film Campbell Scott wanted to make: a coming of age story about an intelligent child, a tale of depression, a portrait of nature, a self discovery tale, and yes, even an absurd comedy. You can also see some great potential in this premise, even if it’s been done before to varying success. For the rest of the 95 minutes or so, you watch him struggle to get all these messages across. He comes close on occasion, but ultimately fails at each and every one of them. I wouldn’t call this poor filmmaking. No, not that at all. He has a good eye for shots, a proven cast, and a workable script. He’s just crippled by his own ambition, and somewhere along the way, his movie spins away from the realism that this type of project desperately needs.

The story centers on the Grodin family, who, as you could guess, live “off the map” somewhere in New Mexico. They survive without income by hunting, trading, gardening – basically living off the land. The mother, Arlene (Joan Allen) does most of the work these days. Her husband Charley (Sam Elliott) suffers from clinical depression, so he isn’t much use around the house anymore. He mostly just sits around drinking water and crying. Their best friend George (J.K. Simmons) does his best to lend a hand when he can, and their energetic daughter Bo (Valentina de Angelis) mostly helps by writing complaints to large corporations, hoping to get some freebies in return.

The family is visited by William Gibbs (Jim True-Frost), a recently hired IRS employee who’s there to audit them for not filing their taxes in 7 years. Stunned by seeing Arlene naked by the garden, he fails to notice a bee lurking nearby and is stung on the hand. William doesn’t take well to bees and is rendered mostly unconscious for a few days, giving the Grodin family a slight taste of the outside world. As it turns out, once he wakes up, he finds himself smitten with both Arlene and their anti-civilization living style, in that order. He stays and assimilates, becoming an honorary member of the Grodins.

One of many problems with this project is that nothing seems genuine. Even veteran actress Joan Allen, who I don’t recall ever giving a truly bad performance, isn’t her usual self. Her lines sound awkward and a little forced, as does everyone else’s around her. The daughter is unrealistically bright, upbeat and energetic. She’s so overboard and ambitious, that she really doesn’t seem to belong, or even come from, our green planet. Just for a little taste of her antics, this 10-year old girl somehow manages to get a hold of a Mastercard, and purchases a boat. Yes, a boat, for this family who lives in the desert. The aim with her eccentricities is of course comic relief, but even the laughs don’t feel like they belong. This is a film about nature, right? Not a Wes Anderson picture. J.K. Simmons’ character is alright, but it’s never clear what he contributes to the film. He’s just kind of there. The only character who seems authentic and necessary is the depressed father, yet we never really understand the nature of his depression, and because he rarely speaks, we hardly learn anything about his character.

Campbell Scott could be a good indie director. His acting resume has certainly given him a lot of experience with small projects, and supposedly his directorial debut, Big Night, was well received (I haven’t seen it). Hopefully his next project will be more focused, more grounded, and a little less ambitious. This film could have been great if he’d focused on just one of the stories he tried to tell. Like the location of his movie, his directing is way too off the map to be worth seeing.

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originally posted: 06/11/05 12:57:05
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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

12/13/17 Tom B An incredulous and downright annoying waste of time. 1 stars
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
8/04/06 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
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  11-Mar-2005 (PG-13)
  DVD: 09-Aug-2005



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