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VIFF ’15: ‘My Good Man’s Gone’

My Good Man's Gone

My Good Man’s Gone
Written and Directed by Nick Citton
Canada, 2015

Nick Citton’s low key dramedy feels all too familiar. Two siblings, Joni and Wes Carver, travel from Los Angeles to the tiny town of Story, Arkansas, when their estranged father passes away. While there, they make new friends, push each other to their emotional breaking points, and perhaps discover a new approach to life. It feels like a mainstay of the American indie scene, complete with quirky townsfolk, repressed emotional baggage revealed through unsurprising plot twists, and a heartfelt, bittersweet ending.  Outfitted with a soulful bluegrass soundtrack, this is another softly substantial portrayal of broken people being healed by a community does not do much for a Canadian film scene that already borrows heavily from American fashions.

None of this is to say that My Good Man’s Gone is a poor film; far from it. It is to serve as a note that there isn’t a unique voice behind its structure. Citton’s direction is steady and at times inspired, guiding Joni (Cheryl Nichols) and Wes’s (Rick Dacey) characters with ease, and  punctuating the mundane town with bursts of lyrical pastoralism that blend memories, dreams, and the Arkansas landscape.  At first, these moments, while pretty, feel at odds with the rest of the film, highlighting the disconnect between the typical structure and these more playful images. But as they continue, they act as conduits into Joni and Wes’ stream of consciousness; a reflection on how they’re processing the environment. By tying these scenes into the narrative holistically, Citton lifts the film out of its well-worn stylistic rut, even if it continually falls back in.

The chemistry between the leads, as a pair of siblings perpetually frustrated with the other, is near perfect, providing both the emotional and comedic foundations of the film. The key is in how they play off each other since at the film’s core is the looming dread of loneliness and living in selfish isolation. Not only Joni and Wes but several of the townsfolk — who are admittedly a bit too picturesque — have been broken or hurt through their family. But instead of critiquing the various ways that the traditional family unit has failed or self inflicts wounds, the film cautiously broaches the ways in which even a less than perfect family or community can pull each other through tough times.

My Good Man's Gone

Once My Good Man’s Gone realizes its rhythm and settles into its groove, it takes turns as a frustrating and comforting film. Comforting due to its catharsis; who among us cannot commiserate with painful family dynamics? Frustrating because it’s clear that that talent involved both behind and in front of the camera have the ability and vision for a less stereotypically reliant exploration of its themes. When the script isn’t trying too hard to shape itself into a one-size-fits-all film, it has genuinely poignant moments, with some of the final dialogue including a well-placed “you were right, I was wrong”; powerful words in a film whose characters take great lengths to avoid acknowledging their own shortcomings. Too bad the film does as well.

The Vancouver International Film Festival takes place from September 24 – October 9, 2015. Visit the official website for more information.

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