The third installment in John O’Brien’s Tunbridge trilogy, “Nosey Parker” proves, among other things, that there is life after Fred for the Vermont filmmaker.
Promoting 1996’s Man With A Plan has kept director and star, 84 year old Fred Tuttle, very busy for the past six years or so. The story of a retired dairy farmer who runs for Congress was such a hit it lead to guest shots with Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien and to a real life Senate bid in which Tuttle thwarted a carpet bagging millionaire on a budget just shy of $200.
Luckily, neither has found himself too busy to make another film together, this time with Fred in an hilarious supporting role. O’Brien’s latest “anthropological comedy” stars another real life dairy farmer, Tunbridge’s own George Lyford. When a couple of well-heeled flatlanders move to the area from Connecticut, Lyford is among the tax assessors, or town listers, who drop by unannounced one summer afternoon to do some officially sanctioned snooping.
Natalie Picoe and Richard Snee costar. She’s a thirtysomething photography buff. He’s in his 50s and has a lucrative private practice as a psychiatrist. Together they’ve escaped the sprawl of suburbia and transformed a humble barn-like structure into a trophy home worthy of the pages of Architectural Digest. Eventually Lyford is hired on as the couple’s handyman and, in the course of conversations with the Mrs, discovers trouble in pastoral paradise.
Snee’s character, we learn, is inattentive, wrapped up in his work and golf game. Cut off from her old friends and unsure about the reception she’d receive from her new neighbors, Picoe’s is increasingly lonely and anxious. The wife and hired hand quickly take to one another. She needs someone to talk to and he’s just busybody enough to lap up scraps of domestic drama while sincerely trying to raise her spirits with jokes and stories about his hardscrabble life.
The two forge what studio marketing types would call “an unlikely bond” and it isn’t long before the man of the house begins to have reservations about it. This in itself, of course, is pretty funny stuff; the notion that a rich, handsome, highly intelligent fellow like this one could fret that his young bride might any minute succumb to the charms of a shriveled rube in bib overalls. Before all is said and done, however, O’Brien manages to up the comic ante with a wonderful twist which literally puts Lyford in the analyst’s chair and the husband on his own couch. The result is unexpected and touching.
“Nosey Parker” is a sweet natured, uplifting experience whose faults are few and forgivable and whose pleasures come in all sizes. They are also too numerous to catalogue here. Suffice it to say the 40 year old has made his most remarkable picture to date. His trademark approach of casting people who live down the street has never borne more delicious fruit. And, for the first time, he imports professionals from somewhat larger towns. The mix is magic. The largely improvised dialogue contains nuggets of wit and honest to god wisdom, the performances-whether homegrown or groomed by years in the theater-are way watchable and the score is as beguiling a treat for the ears as the camerawork is for the eyes. The filmmaker closes his trilogy on an inspired note of concord and good will between emblems of the state’s past and future. Lyford, for his part, was a major find. His passing prior to the completion of filming is a loss no one who sees this film will fail to feel.
John O’Brien is a lot of things. I’m not sure prolific is one of them. Between fundraising and raising sheep on the farm where he was born, the director has taken more than half a decade to follow up his last film. One thing I can report with certainty, however:
It was worth the wait.