Thursday, November 13, 2014

REVIEW: Beside Still Waters

Chris Lowell's debut feature "Beside Still Water" begins with references to Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway about the "Lost Generation". Our protagonist Daniel quotes Hemingway, who claims that all generations are lost and always will be. It's a sobering thought, one that seems to be justified by the characters and events of this film.

Daniel (Ryan Eggold) is having a rough time. His parents have just died in a car accident and he's never felt so alone. Thankfully, he has his longtime best friends for support...or so he thought. It doesn't take long into Daniel's planned getaway/reunion at his parents' house before he reveals the elephant in the room. Despite many of them being rather close to his family, none of them bothered to attend the funeral. Not even his ex-girlfriend Olivia (Britt Lower), who figured it was a good idea to bring her fiancé Henry (Reid Scott) to the group's private trip. Unsurprisingly, Daniel - who still has strong feelings for Olivia - struggles to cope with all the added stress.

Indeed, the tragedy functions as a catalyst for conflict and drama between our characters. Though Daniel is seeking closure by packing up his parents' home, everyone else seems to have brought their own unresolved issues. For some it's a struggling marriage, for others it may be job-related. Basically, it's the common concerns of adult life.

Yet there's an initial level of discomfort in the plot's situations and between the characters that didn't sit well with me. The script forces this awkwardness (it seems like barely any substantial condolences were previously offered in Daniel's time of need) in a way that felt contrived. Too often it feels like it creates conflict for conflict's sake, like when they decide to sabotage Henry despite every indication that he's a perfectly nice guy.

The film does recover in the latter half however. Under the influence of copious amounts of alcohol, everyone begins to confront their individual insecurities. Humor and tension-filled drama arise in equal measure, delivered with conviction by its talented cast. We get a better sense of the history between these friends, culminating in a third act that delivers genuine pathos.

"Beside Still Waters" is a film that gets off to shaky start but eventually finds its footing. Though it may have been too late to appease this viewer, general audiences are likely to connect with it. There are echoes of "The Big Chill" here, though it's sometimes drowned out by the self-involved angst of our current "Lost Generation".


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