River of Grass

River of Grass ★★★★

Kelly Reichardt’s debut has a familiar concept to her other films. She is often concerned about the disadvantaged people in America and River of Grass is no exception. Cozy, unhappy with her monotonous and lonely life, acts on an urge and goes to a bar where he meets Lee who lives with her grandmother. Both are eager to get out of their current situation so they embark on a journey that eventually leads them nowhere. River of Grass is a charming but different kind of getaway and road movie with great jazz drumming thrown in to enhance the adventurous and free spirited atmosphere these characters are trying to embrace. Meek’s Cutoff was a divisive experience and although I understood the slowness it dragged in places. Reichardt’s first three movies (this, Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy) have all had a smooth pacing. They are about people moving from one place to another but Reichardt is keen on contemplation and her own variation of hang out movies that make the relationships between her characters more important than the journey. It’s about their quest for a better life, a desperate attempt at correcting the mistakes they feel like they’ve made.

There is a lot of misery and dissatisfaction in the lower class of America that can be contextualised to this specific genre and Reichardt excels at bringing this to a large audience. She understands the struggle and what people look for in their lives. Her characters make bold decisions that many dream about but she shows the worse side of those decisions. It’s not just dwelling on misery though and usually her movies have a bittersweet ending. Like Cozy here people keep on going, searching for a happier future. And even if they wouldn’t get that, there was that moment when they felt alive. When Cozy and Lee felt they were something more than a housewife and an unemployed slacker.

River of Grass lacks intimacy and affection that would move this from simply contextualizing Reichardt’s ideas to adding emotion to them and making us care about the characters instead of what they represent. However, those ideas are more free flowing and therefore better connected to reality than in many other road movies that follow a stricter structure.

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