Five Nights in Maine screened at the 2016 Sarasota Film Festival on Day Four. Written and directed by Maris Curran, this is a true ‘indie’ as Maris received a large amount of funding via Kickstarter.
Described as an intimate film about love, loss, and compassion – the film stars David Oyelowo as a young African-American man (Sherwin) who is reeling from the tragic loss of his wife. He travels to rural Maine to seek answers from his estranged mother-in-law (Lucinda), who is herself confronting guilt and grief over her daughter’s death.
Lucinda is played by the always marvelous dramatic veteran Dianne Wiest.
The film is mostly a two-hander with Oyelowo and Wiest dueling verbally and emotionally throughout. Rosie Perez plays Ann, Lucinda’s nurse/companion/care-giver. Rosie is also the film’s emotionally steady rock at the core of the film.
As Maris Curran told us in the Q & A after the film screened, she brought the characters to us with out much in the way of backstories. The effect of this is that both Oyelowo’s Sherwin and Wiest’s Lucinda had to develop as the film progressed and eventually some slight backstories seeped into our thoughts. Now when you compound the heavy use of closeups, focusing on people that we don’t really know much about, I think it creates a distancing between the viewer and the character. Almost as if we have a great and urgent need to comfort them, but we cannot, as we don’t know them.
Oyelowo’s performance was the more nuanced and steely of the two leads.
More often than not we had to see his pain through his expressions, or grimaces, or the controlled anger that he had to deal with. As if losing his wife wasn’t already a huge problem, now he was faced with Wiest who was both frightening, chilling, and at the same time, desperately in need of care and affection.
In her own words, she said she shut off life, at least life as we know it and want it to be, after her own husband died.
Then she said, I hope this doesn’t happen to you.
Wiest’s role was really a challenge for the actress. She had to leave everything that was good within her elsewhere to bring forth this harriden of a mother-in-law. Suffering from an unnamed cancer, Wiest glowered and exhibited withering looks with a force of will that likely could bend steel, but couldn’t really penetrate Oyelowo’s grief.
In fact, he would finally pack up and leave this home in rural Maine, choosing instead to spend the night at a local motel rather than another night of enduring Lucinda. But it was a small Maine town, the kind of place where secrets do not remain secrets – or it was a one-motel town. The next day, Sherwin awakes and sees Lucinda asleep, wrapped in a blanket on a lawn chair, outside his cabin.
He says good morning after waking Lucinda. She says good afternoon. This followed an earlier exchange when Lucinda had told Sherwin that he looked ghastly, as if he hadn’t slept in month – which was likely all too true. Yet, when I heard that exchange I never dreamed it would be a lead in for a later scene.
Now from my perspective, I thought that Maris and her cinematographer greatly overplayed the closeup card. In fact I kept hoping that if the camera would pull back to some degree, and stay back, then I might have a better insight. Yes, the pain on the characters faces could not be missed, and would not be missed if there was more distance utilized.
At the same time, the audio effects of this film were amazing. It wasn’t the musical score that I embraced. In fact the music wasn’t pleasant at all (for me). But the sounds of a walk in the forest, of a plunge into a cold Maine pond or lake, or the creaking of the floor boards were sublime. As was the unexpected crack of a rifle shot.
And you know what else I thought was extraordinary – the richness of the visual details. A ladybug traversing Sherwin’s hand, a sharp nail protruding through a wooden plank on the porch. Ann the nurse’s knit cap. Sherwin’s clothes gave no clue about his life whatsoever. That was no accident – that was a carefully created design concept.
My overall impression of this film by Maris Curran is that it has power and impact, just not as much as I had hoped for. To me this is an actor’s film. Curran gave her cast a lot of freedom, or as Rosie Perez told us, Curran always knew what she wanted from each scene.
Note to Readers: This poster, directly above, was not available at the time of my review. But the film is going into its theatrical release tomorrow, August 5th, so this poster is now available. As is the trailer:
I guess I am saying that this film is marked by strong performances, a superb audio track, and some powerful visuals – if only the script had given us more to chew on and exult in, I’d rate the film higher.
My rating is three-point five on the 1 to 5 scale. Maris Curran told us that the film will go into release in late summer, and will also be offered as a VOD product. See it if you can.