2007 SUNDANCE DRAMATIC COMPETITION! Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: A man in his mid-twenties is faced with the death of a relative and goes to another environment to find out who he truly is. What? You’ve heard that story before? “Garden State?” Well, yes, but it also succinctly sums up my description of the film “Four Sheets to the Wind.” Or what I like to call, “The Native American ‘Garden State’.”
Cufe Smallhill (Cody Lightning) discovers his father has ingested a large amount of sleeping pills and is dead. Instead of a regular burial, Cufe gives his father a Seminole send-off by submerging his body in the lake that meant so much to him. Cufe’s sister Miri (Tamara Podemski) invites him to come visit her in Tulsa. Feeling like his life isn’t going anywhere in Oklahoma, Cufe jumps on a bus to go visit his sister. There he meets a free spirit named Francie who shows Cufe that there is a much bigger world than the one he inhabits in Oklahoma.
The film is written and directed by Sterlin Harjo and is the first film I have seen with a real focus on modern day Native Americans. This may be Harjo’s first feature film but he is more than up to the task, delivering a film with some wonderfuly oddball comedy while also being a very heart-felt statement about expanding on the person you are and finding your true voice.
Podemski’s Miri is especially fun to watch, mostly due to all her foolish choices, providing classic comic relief. The girl who plays Francie is not exactly the best actress but you can only expect so much from an indie cast.
The film was definitely a fun ride but the classic three-act structure of the film was in pieces, with no real turning points. Cufe and Miri’s Dad does die at the beginning, setting things in motion, but there are no bad feelings, no personal growth, no need to reconcile with the death beyond normal grieving. However, the film is a well-acted and decent distraction for its hour and a half running time.
In the end, it really doesn’t matter if you are a Seminole are not; this film transcends culture due to the universality of Death and dealing with the inevitable loss. And even though it is similar to “Garden State,” I enjoyed this film quite a bit.