River of Grass

River of Grass ★★★½

With it’s mix of quirk and street poet style, this reminds me a lot of a short story Denis Johnson, one my favorite writers, would write. This style seemed pretty popular in the 90s independent film scene with off-kilter stories about people in the margins being a favorite topic among filmmakers then. But Kelly Reichardt really nails the subtlety and, surprisingly, the humor of that mode. 

Reichardt’s first feature was a lot funnier than I expected it to be. I of course love her quiet and more refined work she’d come out with later in her career, but River of Grass shows a whole new side to her artistry that was very much appreciated. And while it’s normal for her style to focus on people in the margins, she’s never done it with such humor again. It’s a weird, tongue-in-cheek examination of female boredom in America and it floated by like delightfully alcoholic fever dream.

I preferred the quirkiness of the beginning as it introduces us to the strange, disaffected characters that make up the Florida doldrums where this is set. It felt very collage-like, similar to Linklater’s Slacker. It then turns into a familiar riff on a Badlands or a Bonnie and Clyde. While it offers its own inept spin on the proceedings, it isn’t executed nearly as well. But the end leaves us with Reinhardt making a forceful statement which mostly makes up for its underdeveloped middle. This is definitely a first film, but it’s also good first film. I would be very interested in Reinhardt returning to something more sarcastically tuned like this with more mature style in the future, but she can really just do whatever the hell she wants. She’s great.

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