Tribeca 2013: ‘Deep Powder’ is an old story kept fresh by its actors

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Deep PowderDeep-Powder-Poster
USA, 2013
Written and directed by Mo Ogrodnik

Movies about teenagers can tolerate cliche much better than movies about adults. The reason for this is fairly obvious: teenagers haven’t learned enough yet to avoid doing the wrong things that characters in movies shouldn’t do. Teenagers haven’t learned enough about love to avoid the wrong relationship, haven’t learned enough about crime to avoid getting caught, haven’t learned enough about necromancy to avoid reading from the Book of the Dead. So it’s not necessarily a bad thing to say that Mo Ogrodnik’s Deep Powder employs a number of plot or character points that have been seen before – these teenagers will have to learn their lessons the hard way, as all movie teenagers do.

Shiloh Fernandez (from the Evil Dead remake) plays a ski lift operator in a dead-end New England resort town in 1981, and Haley Bennett (The Haunting of Molly Hartley) is a student at the posh boarding school nearby; it will surprise approximately no one that they fall in star-crossed love. Bennett is a member of a secret society which sends a person picked at random to Ecuador each year to score cocaine; it will surprise approximately no one that she is picked and chooses Fernandez to go with her. It will also surprise no one that even in 1981, scoring South American cocaine comes with a number of complications.

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Deep Powder might seem fairly dire at first. It employs police-interview footage of supporting characters in order to deliver exposition in the most bland way possible, and its dialogue occasionally trends toward the purple (at one point a small child asks Fernandez, “what is gravity? … Is gravity stronger than love?”). Once the central romance starts up, though, the film straightens up and finds its focus. Ogrodnik – who also wrote the screenplay – has a feel for these two characters in particular, even if her handle on the other people within their orbit is not so secure. It leads up to an ending which is perhaps not want the audience wants, but is really the only way that these two characters’ stories can conclude.

Bennett is the actor in the film who deserves the most accolades, in part because her character is the most difficult. It’s hard to get an audience to side with the girl who has everything, and even harder when she finds herself unable to be happy about it. But there’s just the right amount of self-awareness in her performance; she’s aware that she seems to be a poor little rich girl, and that feeds her self-destructive behavior as much as any other issues in her past.

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The film which Deep Powder evokes most clearly is the 2001 Kirsten Dunst/Jay Hernandez vehicle crazy/beautiful: in this film as in that one, the spoiled girl represents “crazy” and the working-class guy is “beautiful.” Bennett’s character issues even have the same root cause as Dunst’s did. But Deep Powder is not aiming to be a piece of pop filmmaking: the soundtrack is nothing but oldies and the plotting intentionally avoids melodrama at all costs. This is a moody indie character study in every way, and a decent one at that.

-Mark Young
The Tribeca Film Festival runs April 17-28. Visit the official website for more information.

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