Thursday, May 10, 2007


I got sent a screener DVD of the film Diggers a couple of days ago, a movie I was intrigued to check out because it features Lauren Ambrose of Six Feet Under, along with a bunch of other strong actors, including Paul Rudd, Maura Tierney and Sarah Paulson of Studio 60. The film has some strong moments, but doesn’t really distinguish itself from various other small town indie movies, like Garden State, Kicking and Screaming and others that follow a group of aimless twentysomething friends both attached to and eager to escape from their small town existence.

Along with the success of Little Miss Sunshine came a lot of discussion about the idea of the indie movie as a genre. If you liked Garden State, go see Sunshine. Now, it bothers me that indie movies are becoming locked into this mold of reality based stories about quirky characters. Thankfully, this film avoids excessive quirkiness, and instead dwells in a generally realistic world, at times oppressively so.

The film follows a bunch of clam diggers on Long Island in the 1970s as their business is being overwhelmed by the intrusion of a big company that’s restricting the waters. The film begins with the death of Hunt’s father, which forces all the characters to reassess their lives. Hunt has more artistic aspirations than those around him, but has no way of conceiving an escape from the town. His story was the best part of the film, including his relationship with Zoey.

Ambrose could be playing Amber Waves’ sister here, with her huge purple sunglasses, and long red hair. It’s a good look, but the character never fully develops. She avoids the indie cliché of pixieish girl who saves the hero from depression through her quirkiness, but the film never gives us enough substance to make up for the missed clichés. Zoey is a believable character, and we understand her, but we don’t quite care about her. Same for Hunt, I get his troubles, but I don’t particularly care about the way things go for him.

Part of the film’s problem is that the introduction of the characters is rather haphazard. There’s a whole bunch of characters and relationships aren’t made clear for a while. A funeral scene at the beginning of the film brings all the characters together, and we know they are separately, but aren’t sure how they relate to each other, who’s family and who’s friends, who’s got issues with who. Because we don’t know the characters, it’s tough to care about them, it takes about a half hour for the film to settle into a groove, for us to understand the world that it exists in.

It feels like there’s a lot of stuff deleted from this movie, there’s a bunch of characters who aren’t really developed, and subplots that don’t go anywhere. The movie’s pretty short, and I think it would have been worthwhile to either add some scenes back in, or tighten the focus to just a few characters. I suppose the goal was to do a portrait of the community, but that doesn’t work out so well.

The best scene in the film is a sequence at a bar near the end of the film, where all of the characters converge, the men and women flirt and the secrets they’re hiding come to the surface. It’s a really well constructed piece, full of fun moments, particularly the dynamic between Tierney and Paulson. By this point, we finally understand what’s going on with these characters and what they want.

I’m not one to demand character exposition normally, but this movie is so based around its characters, you need to understand them for it to work. The direction is there to spotlight the actors and the script, but the characters aren’t quite strong enough to carry the film on their own. Perhaps with a bit more energy in the direction, the movie could have worked. People have turned on Garden State, but that movie has a fine energy and well constructed shots. It’s all about providing the viewer with a true filmic experience, this is closer to a filmed play.

But, a run of the mill indie movie like this one is still a lot stronger than the vast majority of films you’ll see from the studios. The characters are complex and feel real, and the narrative is nicely minimalist, letting us enter the characters’ lives for a while, then drift on. It’s not a great movie, but it has its moments.

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