Apart From That

Movies Reviews
Apart From That

Apart From That, a film written and directed by Randy Walker and Jennifer Shainin, first hit the festival circuit in 2006. It’s taken nearly seven years for distribution, but it’s understandable—this indie film can be a challenging one for mainstream audiences. The drama, which centers on the denizens of a small town in Washington state, has at times a documentary-like quality, but features quirky characters who aren’t as funny or likable as they’re meant to be.

The film opens with a touch of cinema verité: The camera wanders through a party, dropping in the middle of seemingly random conversations, leaving viewers to guess what’s happening or even who the film’s characters are. As Apart From That progresses, the film concentrates its focus on several of the party-goers.

Ulla (Kathleen McNearney) is a struggling hairdressing-beauty school student who rents a room from an elderly exhibitionist, Peggy (Alice Ellingson). Peggy’s need for attention climaxes in a 911 call to the fire department with the firefighters finding her on the couch, partially disrobed. Ulla’s not without her own peculiarities either as she spends much of her free time capturing sound recordings of Peggy and the house. (The reason for this activity is never explained.)

Leo (Tony K. Cladoosby) is a Native American highway striper who seizes any distraction to avoid visiting his dying best friend. In the film’s third major storyline, a Vietnamese-American banker, Sam (Toan Le), is forced to lay off staff, including the father of his son’s best friend, Kyle (Kyle Conyers). This business decision creates a rift between Sam and his adopted son.

Filmmakers Shainin and Walker have captured a slice-of-life from both characters and a region that’s not often explored. Their film deserves kudos for casting in a manner that’s representative of the area, with Native American, Asian and White actors playing featured roles. Sam, a Vietnamese-American single father to an adopted Caucasian son, has the same insecurities about parenting as any other father would. And while Leo is a Native American, his struggle in coming to terms with a friend’s impending death is a universal experience.

However, the characters’ idiosyncrasies are more often off-putting than endearing. Peggy has a fiercely independent—and sometimes mean—streak, and a terrible relationship with her daughter and her family. The only connection she truly has (and it’s a tenuous one at that) is with her shy boarder, Ulla, who is uncomfortable with most human interaction. Their eventual bonding feels forced. Leo’s avoidance of visiting his dying best friend is frustrating to watch, especially as he’d rather build “sculptures” of garage sale-ready items with a stranger. Sam’s insecurities are more pitiable than funny; this father will do anything to earn his son’s love, even if it means apologizing to Kyle’s father for firing him.

Most of the actors in the film aren’t professionals, which is both good—adding to the film’s documentary quality and improvised feel—and distracting. There are a number of scenes in which some of the players try too hard to “act” in front of the camera, coming off as a little awkward and amateurish.

The indie feature works well on several levels, but as it tries to capture the characters’ everyday lives, Apart From That gets bogged down in minutiae, making the film much longer than it needs to be. In real life, many days are long and boring with nothing of much significance happening, which unfortunately is also the film’s end result.

Director: Jennifer Shainin, Randy Walker,
Writer: Randy Walker, Jennifer Shainin
Starring: Kathleen McNearney, Kyle Conyers, Toan Le, Alice Ellingson, Tony K. Cladoosby, Jessica Marlowe-Goldstein
Release Date: Sept. 24, 2013

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