Old Joy

Old Joy (2006) movie poster

(2006) dir. Kelly Reichardt
viewed: 02/20/10

A movie about a couple of guys who go camping, find a hidden hot springs, take a bath and chat.  What’s not to like, right?   Honestly, I’ve never been one for camping.  And watching two guys go camping in a movie lacks the inconvenience of really doing it yourself, but not the dull boredom.

Oddly enough, I kept thinking of the film Wendy and Lucy (2008), which I’d seen last year, about a girl stuck in the Pacific Northwest, on the down-and-out, amid the humdrum small town in which she finds herself stranded.  Oddly enough, I say, because that film also was by writer/director Kelly Reichardt, adapted as well from a story by Jonathan Raymond.  And it’s both milieu and style that ties these things together, a minimalist naturalism, aimed at the dull, non-overwhelming actuality of life and its less exciting rhythms.

Old Joystars the musician Will Oldham as one of the two friends who go camping.  He’s the wandering one who smokes dope and knows where the hidden hot springs are.  His friend is a father-to-be whose life perhaps at one time mirrored that of Oldham’s character, but is now settling into “something that he can’t easily extract himself from,” which Oldham’s character considers one of the keys to his life.

Nothing in particular happens, so the film is really one of tonality, of suggestion (since much more perhaps goes unsaid than said) and their friendship and yet alienation from one another is sort of the point of the exercise.  But it’s a hard sell.  To be honest, a film in which the most dramatic point is where one guy gives another guy a shoulder massage, you’ve got to be committed to the experiment and the style to follow.

As in Wendy and Lucy, there is a real earnest approach to narrative here, to representing stories of the Northwest, of people that we might easily recognize from the coffee shop or the park bench.  And while I think that this film worked a little more than Wendy and Lucy, it still feels like something is missing (and I don’t mean a car chase or an explosion or two), but I think to pull off this type of subtlety and tonality, in many ways you have to be more a master craftsperson than one who does make digital blue people and things pop off the screen with computers.  It’s hard.  And while I give merit to it, I also wish that it succeed more than it seemed to.

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