Grey skies enshroud Portland, Oregon in winter weather typical of the Pacific Northwest. An average likable guy drops out of college, having studied criminal justice and forensic science, and moves in with his sister. He gets a job at an ice factory and befriends a co-worker who also is a DJ. The dropout’s old girlfriend shows up from Chicago for training classes in a legal firm. A nice funny indie dramedy has been set up about people in their 20s hanging out. They talk about things like Sherlock Holmes. Paraphrased line: “Homes is badass ghetto. I liked the story about the snake best.” Then all of a sudden—BAM!—the girlfriend disappears and the movie becomes a mystery.
Even with the mystery rolling, the movie takes asides to listen to characters. But it’s done with a right balance that doesn’t stop suspense. It’s a terrific evolution on the mumblecore indie sub-genre. Much of the humor comes from how these ordinary people, who have been solidly established, react to being in crazy circumstances. Yet how much you like the movie depends on how much you like these folks.
Here’s an example of how writer-director Aaron Katz tweaks a mystery convention. In a zillion cop movies, when they’re on a stakeout, the cops bitch about their wives or how little money they make. In this movie, the civilian characters talk about mix tapes they’ve made each other. How they get through tight jams is inventive and believably off-center. They are clearly thinking and not just plodding according to formula.
Katz’s characters are filled with humanity and good cheer. A pervasive optimism colors his films. I’m including his last movie, Quiet City, which is a charming romance about a couple that meet and wander around. His optimism is refreshing in the face of so much common cinematic cynicism. Katz’s excitement over having a definite plot is palatable and separates this film from the rest of the twenty-something naval gazing set. It’s a clear step in a more original direction. Even Cold Weather’s mystery plot turns are pretty clever for the genre.
Cris Lankenau and Trieste Kelly Dunn have believable brother-sister chemistry. Interaction rings true. It’s a positive relationship of siblings who get along well and support each other. Like the rest of the ambience, it’s a pleasing contrast to bitter sibling rivalries portrayed in so much indie cinema. Katz’s enthusiasm in breaking apart the sub-genre is tangible. Audiences should feel it as well.
This review was originally published on July 3, 2010