Writer-director-star Jessica Michael Davis expands her short Escaping Ohio to feature length under the same title. Co-writer/co-lead Collin Kelly-Sordelet is exported to the longer film as well. Is there enough meat on the bones to warrant an 81-minute runtime, or is it all just filler?
Davis is Sam, a high school senior stuck in Akron, Ohio. While her parents (Emily Bergl and Adam Pascal) mean well, the small-town life suffocates her. Sam’s savior comes in the form of her best friend, JJ (Kelly-Sordelet), who creatively entertains her. For example, he pulls her on a bicycle while she’s sitting on a skateboard. Sam is excited when she gets an internship in California but doesn’t tell JJ, despite other friends knowing.
As the summer progresses, Sam and JJ finally seal the deal and begin a romantic relationship. Upon learning of her possible departure, the newly-minted boyfriend comes up with a fool-proof plan: JJ will show Sam a new, awesome thing about Ohio every day to convince her to stay. With life seemingly going well, Sam is left with the impossible choice between following her to escape Ohio or staying the love of her life and closer to her family.
“… JJ will show Sam a new, awesome thing about Ohio every day to convince her to stay.”
Escaping Ohio is delightful from beginning to end. Davis commands tone in her feature debut like a seasoned master. The drama and comedy complement each other perfectly, creating a lighthearted movie with relevant stakes for the wonderfully drawn characters. At one point, JJ gets mad that Sam still hasn’t decided whether to stay or not, despite how good things are going. A mutual friend raises a few basic questions, like did he (JJ) ever think of traveling with Sam? This is in the middle of a rambling speech about this person’s on-off-again boyfriend. Thus, some real pathos is injected directly into a very amusing aside.
Davis is perfect as the lead. She makes Sam’s ambitions and feeling of being stifled tangible without being a martyr. Her chemistry with Kelly-Sordelet is outstanding, instantly creating a believable pairing, both as friends and lovers. Kelly-Sordelet also excels individually, bringing a raw earnestness and sweetness to what could’ve become an annoying doofus in other hands. Bergl’s constant demands to “be the parent this once” rings true, as does Pascal’s speech about running a batting cage.
Storywise, Escaping Ohio is a little predictable, as similar themes and ideas have been visited in other flicks. However, rarely has it been done in such a sweet, natural way. Every character arc and turn feels genuinely earned. Plus, the cinematography is shockingly great, considering the location is a provincial little town in a sleepy flyover state. A part of an old arena is now the foundation of a highway. The camera lovingly captures this oddly scenic area, making it look as cool as the characters think it is. Plus, the blocking is quite clever. Sam and JJ have an important conversation while they are at their carhop restaurant job. The way they go in and out of the scene is very well handled and makes the dialogue flow in a stylized way yet feel real.
Escaping Ohio is a gem of a film. The directing and writing create an entertaining but realistic world populated with fun people. The acting breathes life into these characters authentically, all while the drama and comedy mesh perfectly.
For more information, visit the official Escaping Ohio site.
"…delightful from beginning to end."