The 2012 Tribeca Film Festival continues on, with a full lineup of events, panel talks, and screenings to come over the next week or so. Many of the people I have talked to thus far about their fest experience have been extremely pleased, and the most common response is that they wish they could see even more films. Well, get to it my friends, as the fest does not last forever. One of the films making its World Premiere at TFF is "Fairhaven", from Director/Writer/Actor Tom O'Brien, a poignant tome exploring the search for happiness, revisiting the past, and looking to the future.
Set in seaside town Fairhaven, Massachusetts, where time seems to move at a different pace, Jon (Tom O'Brien) looks to commit himself to his writing career, leaving behind his day job on a fishing boat. His search for truth mirrors that of his old friends Dave (Chris Messina), Sam (Rich Sommer), and Kate (Sarah Paulson), as they are all thrust back together with the death of Dave's father and the subsequent funeral. The search for this truth is complex and different for all of them, as they each lug around their own baggage and desires. Sam and Kate are recently divorced, Jon has his issues as mentioned earlier, and Dave has been away for a long stretch of time and is a little more spontaneous let's say than the others, so many dynamics intertwine and must play out. The film's narrative functions like an onion of sorts, allowing the viewer to peel back layers of the characters' pasts in subtle, intimate ways.
The film masterfully maintains a naturalistic, subtle, and sensitive tone, revealing much beneath the surface of the characters' dialogue, often saying more with their bodies, actions, and especially their powerful eyes. Additionally, this economy of dialogue gives more impact to that which is actually said among the old friends, further elevating the chemistry on screen which is of the highest order. There is no one to turn to but each other, which seems to metaphorically interject itself into the narrative, showing the great care taken by O'Brien and Messina in conceiving this story.
Feelings of alienation are cascading throughout the culture and amongst the characters in "Fairhaven", mirroring many across the rest of the country, and the world for that matter. In the film as in life, to overcome alienation, humans must find connections, a way to relate to one another. In "Fairhaven", the coming together of old friends over the death of a parent is the catalyst that offers the opportunity for them to connect. This kind of loss is something that is not difficult to relate to, as most people have a friend who has lost a parent. The film uses this vehicle as a way to bind the characters in a way that is comforting yet anxious, perhaps because being exposed emotionally is a scary thing.
Certainly the craftsmanship that created the story allows for the possibility of stellar performances, smartly giving every member of the ensemble cast a chance to shine. Great direction, which was clearly one of the film's strengths, helps this along as well. But ultimately, the actors need to step up and deliver a performance, one that will carry this film that lacks superfluous and supercilious devices, instead sticking to real human connection. Clearly juggling a lot as one of the lead actors, directing, and I'm sure he had other responsibilities as well, Tom O'Brien carries a good deal of the film's emotional weight, acting as the central trunk of a tree where the other character's branches come forth from. His even, thoughtful, and humanizing performance and direction prove his creative chops.
The undeniably warm and comfortable performance of Rich Sommer as Sam adds another area of identification for the viewer, as the pain and life upheaval that occurs with a divorce, especially when there is a child involved, is unfortunately all too common these days. He does his best to keep spirits high in the group despite his own inner struggles, which are plain to see in his telling eyes when he has scenes with his ex-wife Kate, who is effortlessly painted on the canvas of the narrative by Sarah Paulson. She emotes with a perfection of tone the look of pain and compassion you see in the eyes of a mother, or any person who has someone in their life that they live for beyond the self.
Of special note however, is the work done by Chris Messina, who has continually raised his level of performance as the years have passed, growing into one of the finest actors in the business today. The charisma, subtlety, passion, and empathetic touch he brings through Dave is mesmerizing. As the party ring leader of sorts, some would even call him a bit of a loose cannon, Dave must carry much of the levity in the film that makes "Fairhaven" such a balanced, emotion eliciting narrative. But Messina also must carry powerful dramatic moments too, as his character is embroiled in conflict of some sort with everyone, entangled in their lives, and dealing with the issues that are central to everyone's growth.
The visual aspects of the film made unobtrusive use of the natural elements within the scenes, be it an interior or exterior shot. As the film's narrative was unencumbered by gimmickry, excess, or self-indulgence, so too was the cinematography from Peter Simonite. Lighting was always soft, understated, and naturalistic, which combined with the subtle, gentle, but potent camera movements and shots, creating a vehicle for the narrative to shine, with the visual elements there to enhance that narrative.
Add to this visual poignancy the best score and soundtrack I have heard in some time on a film and one can see how "Fairhaven" carries such depth and potency. The film uses the music, the lyrics, and the tone of a bevy of great indie artists, including one of my favorites, Bob Parins, to elevate the narrative unfolding amongst the characters and carry the weight through quiet scenes depicting the pastoral seaside splendor of Fairhaven and the Southern Massachusetts coast.
"Fairhaven" will undoubtedly speak to audiences and allow an identification with its characters beyond most films at this year TFF. The filmmakers, actors, and crew involved with this project have something to take pride in for the rest of their days, something they can look back on and feel like they made the right choice to be part of the film. If only more people took as much pride in their work and performed it with that kind of passion, oh what a world it might be.
Look for many more reviews and other helpful information on the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival in the coming weeks. If you are interested in following along with the coverage of the TFF or film festivals in the future, you can receive these articles directly as they are published by clicking on the “Subscribe” button at the top of this piece. You can also follow me on Twitter by searching for ericshlapack or by clicking the link below.