Published: August 10, 2011
MPI Home Video DVD
You don’t hear much about “mumblecore” these days, and maybe that’s for the best. There seemed to be little embrace of the term/concept by anyone but film critics, most especially not the incestuous collection of filmmakers whose no-frills, low-drama accounts of the lives of young, white, middle-class, urban twentysomethings inspired the term. They have simply continued to make films, either going Hollywood (as Jay and Mark Duplass did with 2010’s Cyrus) or continuing to pump out indie projects (Joe Swanberg has completed four features since 2009’s Alexander the Last). Aaron Katz, meanwhile, did something unexpected with his third feature, Cold Weather. He made a mumblecore genre film. Sort of.
As Cold Weather begins, Doug (Cris Lankenau) has moved back home to Portland, Ore., and in with his sister Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn). Despite their sibling status, they relate to each other a bit like a honeymoon’s-over couple whose trajectories have started to diverge. Gail has landed a cush office job while Doug loafs, reads, and works an undemanding gig in an ice factory. He is utterly unengaged and she is unenthralled by it. So far, so typical. But Doug used to study forensic science back when he bothered with school, and when old girlfriend Rachel (Robyn Rikoon) shows up for a visit and then disappears, Doug’s stifled detective instincts resurface. With his ice-factory buddy Carlos (scene-stealing Raul Castillo) serving as the Watson to his Holmes, Doug delves into the increasingly shady world Rachel sank into, and Portland’s perma-drizzle emerges as ideal contemporary noir backdrop.
Which is not to say that Katz has crafted a mumblecore The Big Sleep or anything. In his previous films, most especially 2007’s Quiet City, Katz proved adroit at teasing interest and modest impact out of awkward conversations, things left unsaid, long pauses and silent glances, and how those convey information about relationships as much as any big speech or clinch. This is, of course, one of the main reasons so-called mumblecore turns off many viewers. There’s a good bit more plot to Cold Weather, by necessity, as well as something like an action sequence and even disguises at one point, though there’s still plenty of seemingly aimless meandering. But when the final scene rolls around, the big reveal is that the mystery itself is a red herring, and that Cold Weather was about something else all along. You won’t see it coming.
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