Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 05/06/12 16:03:40

"A pretty nice place for any doubts you might have."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2012: If you're going to go through a time of self-doubt or regret, you could find worse surroundings than Fairhaven, Mass. It's got the kind of snow dirt and smoke don't seem to stick to, there are good friends there to support you, and your problems are taken seriously without being blown out of proportion.

Take, for instance, Jon (writer/director Tom O'Brien); a man in his mid-thirties, his job on a fishing boat is steady but makes it hard for him to find time to write, which is his true passion; his girlfriend Angela (Alexie Gilmore) teaches "laughter classes" and talks about open relationships in a way that sounds cool but makes him nervous. His best friend Sam (Rich Sommer) has a great daughter but hasn't really been with any one since divorcing high-school sweetheart Kate (Sarah Paulson), who has since remarried. The other guy they were close with as kids, Dave (Chris Messina), has been away for ten years but has returned for his father's funeral.

There's no terrible, hidden dysfunction underneath the surface here. Characters' issues are pretty much what they appear to be, and the secrets revealed, while not quite inconsequential, are the sort that hang over the characters uneasily rather than ominously. O'Brien seems to have a sense of proportion about things; these aren't the sort of problems that are solved with outbursts, and they're not made so for dramatic effect. A moment which a different film might milk for tension instead has the guys teasing Kate about her new husband being older man, for example, a certain manifestation of Jon's insecurity also manages to serve as a running joke.

The three main actors do a good job of showing that restrained turmoil. Chris Messina, in particular, plays the untethered Dave as a guy who never seems far from dragging his friends down or doing something self-destructive, but has awareness of his volatility. Tom O'Brien wears Jon's self-doubt on his sleeve, but not garishly; as with Messina, he lets that characteristic inform his performance but not dominate it. Rich Sommer adds a hint of frazzle to Sam's good nature; he represents the sensible, responsible guy whose life still took unexpected turns quite well.

(The ladies' characters aren't quite so well-developed; Alexie Gilmore, Sarah Paulson, Natalie Gold, Grace Collins and company are good enough, but clearly secondary characters.)

O'Brien has chosen a nice location for his film; what we see of Fairhaven is a pretty town, and the snow adds the perfect touch to the atmosphere (the filmmakers got quite lucky with the weather). It's quite a nice-looking film beyond the picturesque setting, and the pace of the movie matches the setting - relaxed, but with tension.

It's a low-key tone for a low-key film, but that's fine - not every drama has to be heavy on the drama. Sometimes being true-to-life is all a movie needs.

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