French film theorist Andre Bazin once wrote that some novels are more cinematic than they are literary, and some films are more literary than cinematic. Bryan Goldworth’s film “Searching for Wooden Watermelons” falls in the second category. Written by and starring Wendy English, the film tracks the summer in Jude Farnie’s (English) life that forever changes her. Jude lives with her mother (Victoria Anne LeBlanc) and maternal grandparents in a small town in Texas. Like the main characters in films such as “Mystic Pizza” (Donald Petrie, 1988), “Muriel’s Wedding” (PJ Hogan, 1994), and “Dancer, Texas” (Tim McCanlies, 1998), Jude strongly wants to flee her hometown and pursue her dreams in the big city. Before she can fly the coop, though, she must overcome the obstacles in her way, such as an attachment to her grandmother (Dixie Tucker) and hesitation to let go of the familiar.
“Searching for Wooden Watermelons” is clearly about Jude’s desires and fears, but neither writer nor director wish to limit the story to her growth as a person. A film can possess a multi-layered narrative structure, but only when done correctly. In Goldsmith’s film, in addition to Jude’s story line, there’s also a plot thread involving the local Jefferson Theatre and the threat of it succumbing to the spread of multiplexes. The result is a near struggle over point-of-view. The film begins with a series of Jude’s voice-overs, which establishes her as the narrator. Since “Watermelons” focuses on her, it is appropriate that the plot delve into Jude’s family issues because they at least contribute to her character.
The matter concerning the movie theatre is significant because it creates a unique binary opposition with respect to Jude’s yearning to leave her small hometown. But, the treatment of this story line is awkward. Because the film includes so much of Jude’s voice-overs, the narrative perspective is perceived to originate solely from her. Yet, “Watermelons” contains scenes in which Jude is not present (how could she know about certain conversations if she isn’t there to witness them?). Furthermore, points-of-view often shift to those of Riley (Chad Safar) and his dad Joe (Joe Walker), the owner of the Jefferson Theatre. Even if “Watermelons” deals equally with Jude and the collective experience of specific members of Beaumont, Texas, Goldworth’s efforts still fall short.
It’s commonplace for a literary work to incorporate changes in narrative perspective. The writer only needs to begin a new chapter or leave a two-inch blank space on a page. It isn’t nearly as straightforward in cinema. Fade-outs or dissolves are not enough. If Bazin could watch “Searching for Wooden Watermelons,” he’d probably think that the film would make a better book.
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