1 Mile To You is apparently just a nickname; you might find Life At These Speeds on its birth certificate. A movie by any other name would still be just as cruddy though.
The film is about a high school athlete named Kevin. He wins a major race at an event but then loses his entire track and field team (plus his girlfriend) to a bus crash that he’s only spared from because he’d promised his parents to ride home with them. The grief is crushing of course, and he decides the only thing he can do is outrun it. Suddenly he’s even better than he was before, obliterating track records, leaving all his opponents in the dust. He attracts a lot of attention from the very best coaches and schools but none of it makes him happy because running just makes him remember. Grief is a complicated animal but thanks to an attentive coach (Billy Crudup), running becomes a coping mechanism rather than an escape, and we actually see young Kevin grow and develop, not just as an athlete, but as a young man coming to grips with a painful past. Can grief be a motivator? Can it be conquered? Can it be fuel?
They’re interesting questions in a not very interesting movie. Inner turmoil is difficult to show on screen I suppose, made more difficult by cheesy directing and the limitations of a young (though decidedly not young enough to play a high school student) actor. The film is inconsistent, and sometimes confusing. It has trouble deciding which characters are important, with certain members of the cast popping up at random times, as if it’s not so much a movie about grief and running as a curious game of whack-a-mole. Don’t worry though, there’s not enough character development to go around, so you won’t really care.
There are a million movies about country bumpkins going to the big city: fish out of water hilarity ensues. In this case, a family does the opposite migration; they move from Brooklyn to small town Washington and culture shock ensues. In fact, the Burns family has a flat-out identity crisis. Mom Gina (Melanie Lynskey) has accepted a new tenure-track position at the local college but her new colleagues find her photography to be a little “New York centrist”. Dad Mack (Nelsan Ellis) struggles to keep up with is cooking show critiques without working appliances – the moving truck hasn’t arrived yet, so he’s chasing them instead of devoting time to his second novel. And son Clark (Armani Jackson) is finding out how it feels to be the only black kid in town as he attempts to befriend some girls who are looking for a token minority third.
You might almost want to call Little Boxes a companion piece to Jordan Peele’s Get Out for its quiet inspection of white liberal racism, but the truth is, this one lacks bite. It’s a little too tame in its condemnation. But what makes the film worthwhile is the excellent family dynamic between Lynskey, Ellis, and Jackson. I always feel chuffed to see Lynskey in anything; she’s the Queen of indie movies and I bow down before her. Ellis was strong right out of the gate, but I struggled to place him. It was the voice that tipped me off: I knew him from somewhere. It took until the last scenes of the movie before I had my light bulb moment – True Blood (he played the cook, Lafayette). Even the kid is good, and I’m of the opinion that child actors can make or break your project. Too many directors don’t spend near enough time finding a kid who’s more than just cute. I’m happy to report that Jackson earns his spot in the Burns trifecta. They make a family you’ll fall in love with immediately, which is what makes it so effective when they hit a rough patch. Their disharmony transfers to us.
The messiness of life is addressed honestly if not always subtly. There are many ways in which to not fit in, and Little Boxes finds at least three. But it also finds a comforting way to put things back together, and maybe that’s the point, not the oddly-shaped puzzle pieces that life gives us, but the glue that holds them together.
Poor Ruth. Life is rough. A mean old client just died on her while she was in the room. Her house was broken into, her grandmother’s silver stolen. And her neighbour’s dog keeps shitting on her lawn! Somewhere in there was her breaking point.
So she can be forgiven for recruiting a weirdo neighbour who has “ninja sticks” to “ride with her” on a mission to retrieve some of her stolen stuff. How empowering! Now Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) is unleashed and creepy neighbour guy (Elijah Wood), well, he was always a little unhinged.
But wait: this movie is written and directed by Macon Blair, the actor who so unsettled me in Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin and Green Room. I can’t help but suspect something a little more sinister from a man of that pedigree. And true to his spirit there will be some interesting elder abuse, some more out-of-toilet pooping, a really great church singalong, projectile vomiting, and some very unnecessary rat tails.
Now, it’s nearly always entertaining when lay people decide to take justice into their own hands. And it’s nearly always a bad idea. Perhaps they wouldn’t be so tempted if movie cops weren’t always so inept, so unwilling or unable to do their jobs. As you may have guessed, Ruth is not having ANY OF THAT.
Melanie Lynskey is a pretty underrated actress. Watching her go from meek to badass in this role is a whole lot of fun. Recently she was at SXSW and sat in conversation with her Sadie director, Megan Griffiths. She talked about sustaining her stellar indie career with a profitable recurring role on Two And A Half Men, and relying on her gut when choosing roles: “I learned that I operate very much from instinct. It has to come from somewhere that’s very truthful inside of me…” If this role comes from a truthful place inside her, well by god, this necessitates a whole other conversation!
Four couples convene at a cottage for a weekend getaway, or at least that’s what one of the couples thinks. The other three are there to tell the fourth to get divorced already. Ruby (Cobie Smulders) and Peter (Vincent Piazza) have been at each other’s throats for as long as anyone can remember, and their friends have determined that this is the time to spring a martial intervention on them. It’s not that easy to tell your friends to quit their relationship though, especially not when your own is on somewhat rocky ground.
Jessie (Clea DuVall) and Sarah (Natasha Lyonne) are in love, but they lead separate lives, perhaps because Sarah is not exactly Jessie’s “type” , but you do you know who is? Jack’s new girlfriend! Everyone thinks it’s kind of tacky that Jack (Ben Schwartz) brought a hot young date named Lola (Alia Shawkat) to the shindig, and they doubly don’t appreciate their sloppy pda all over the place. Not when Annie (Melanie Lynskey) and Matt (Jason Ritter) are on their umpteenth postponement of their wedding and Annie’s drinking again, not that anyone minds so much when her drunken outbursts break the ice during a very tense dinner.
Have you ever guided someone towards divorce when they themselves have never put divorce on the table? It’s a little dicey, but Clea DuVall’s script is often funny in the right places. We don’t get to know the characters very thoroughly, but we do get a front row seat to an epically disastrous friends’ weekend. The plot is a little old-hat but the incredible dynamism between the lead actors gives the movie some verve and even if it plod a little in the middle, it was a good Netflix risk that made me feel just a bit better about the stupid stuff I get up to with my friends, who as far as I know, are pretty comfortable with my marital status.