Ac­tors show glimpses of vi­tal­ity

Na­ture

Austin American-Statesman - - AUSTIN360 DAILY - From left, Gabrielle Union, John Slat­tery, Jena Malone, and Zach Gil­ford “In Our Na­ture.” CONTRIBUTED Rat­ing: Un­rated, adult themes, sex­u­al­ity, drug use. Run­ning time: 1 hour, 43 min­utes. The­ater: Ar­bor. Con­tact Matthew Odam at 912-5986. Twit­ter: @odam

“Fri­day Night Lights”) and his live-in girl­friend, Andie ( Jena Malone), want to get out of New York City for the week­end, so they jump in their Subaru, com­plete with Obama bumper sticker, and head to Seth’s fam­ily’s home in up­state New York. They want to get out to “na­ture,” a dou­ble en­ten­dre that will re­veal it­self in the coming fa­ther-son bat­tle.

On the ride, Andie takes a phone call from her brother re­gard­ing the health of their mother. She is not well, and Andie feels guilty for not be­ing able to be of bet­ter as­sis­tance. We never come to know the na­ture of the ill­ness, and re­peated furtive phone calls and text mes­sages through­out the week­end hint at pos­si­ble adul­tery. While it’s nice that Savel­son does not hit us over the head with ex­po­si­tion that would be un­nec­es­sary be­tween th­ese two characters, the lack of de­tails saps Andie’s mother’s con­di­tion of any dire­ness.

Af­ter ar­riv­ing at the bu­colic lake house, the young lovers be­gin their week­end in earnest with some im­promptu sex on the floor. But it be­comes a case of coitus in­ter­rup­tus when Seth’s stodgy, sil­ver-haired fa­ther, Gil ( John Slat­tery of ‘Mad Men’), ap­pears with his young, beau­ti­ful girl­friend Vicky (Gabrielle Union).

Seth and Gil have a se­ri­ously strained re­la­tion­ship. Nei­ther is fa­mil­iar with the other’s ro­man­tic in­ter­est, and Gil doesn’t even know that his son is a chef or a veg­e­tar­ian, a fact for which the son re­ceives much chid­ing. But the ti­tle “chef” may be a stretch. The bearded Seth is a bounce-around kind of Brook­lyn bo­hemian who dab­bles in mu­sic, food and sound en­gi­neer­ing. His fa­ther, mean­while, is an anal and some­what an­gry Man­hat­tan at­tor­ney with an eye for de­tail and lit­tle room for em­pa­thy. The fact that their en­tan­gle­ments never veer into the polit- ical spec­trum hinted at with the bumper sticker in the early scene is rather shock­ing for a film full of tele­graphed stereo­types.

Both men of­fer to im­me­di­ately leave the house and re­turn to NYC, but the ex­act ten­sion be­tween the two re­mains vague. The two girl­friends are soon frus­trated by the stub­born­ness of the con­trast­ing and in­cred­i­bly grumpy men. The his­tory of the fa­ther-son griev­ance is slowly re­vealed in con­ver­sa­tions be­tween the characters as they move around the prop­erty in the plod­ding cham­ber piece: here Seth and Vicky in a tree­house, there Andie and Gil on the stoop shar­ing a joint and some per­sonal his­tory. In an­other scene, all four sit rigidly around an awk­ward din­ner ta­ble.

The ex­changes sim­mer and in­sin­u­ate with sex­ual sub­text be­tween son and would-be step­mom and fa­ther and would-be daugh­ter-in-law. But the ten­sion is mostly a mis­di­rect that slows any move­ment to­ward clar­ity or res­o­lu­tion and dis­tracts from the main story.

What we do learn is that Gil was a ne­glect­ful fa­ther who cared more about opera and his law prac­tice than his son. Slat­tery is great as the churl­ish and charm­ing fa­ther who can’t wrap his head around why his son spends so much en­ergy on re­sent­ment and so lit­tle on get­ting on with his life. Gil­ford, as he proved in episodes of “FNL” when his girl­friend Julie got cross with him, can play mopey very well, but you just want to shake some sense into Seth. Dad wasn’t around enough? Cry me a river. Some peo­ple have real prob­lems, kid. The movie does a good job of show­ing each man through the other’s eyes, but in the end they both seem piti­ful in dif­fer­ent ways.

The fe­male characters here earn some mea- sure of sym­pa­thy, as they have to be the ma­ture ones who try and get their men to take some accountability and bury the hatchet. Their vi­cis­si­tudes are a bit jar­ring, how­ever. One minute they adore and com­fort their men, the next they are ready to throw in the towel. Maybe the point is that men, by their na­ture, can act like grown-up boys re­gard­less of their age.

“In Our Na­ture” in­tends to play as a slow boil, but the va­garies of the fa­ther-and-son quar­rel don’t com­pel you to care about the even­tual fall­out. There are some in­ter­est­ing ideas about the psy­cho­log­i­cal in­flu­ence of child­hood and the dif­fi­culty of be­ing both par­ent and child, but the film lacks vi­tal­ity. It does, how­ever, show some ma­tu­rity and re­al­ism by not forc­ing a clean con­clu­sion, mir­ror­ing the at­ten­dant messi­ness of real-world re­la­tion­ships.

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