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By Merle Bertrand | March 22, 2005

It was one of those ancient Greek geometrists who first stated centuries ago that the shortest distance between two points was a straight line. Hell, I coulda told him that, and I sucked at math. Bet it wouldn’t have taken me a 12-page “proof” to do it, either. As obvious as that seems, however, you might have a tough time convincing Bobby (director Sean Ackerman) that it matters.

An orphan following the death of his beloved mother (Monika Franzen) in Chicago following a long illness, Bobby has retreated to the Montana wilderness, where he plans to spend some alone time with his thoughts and memories. Fate, however, has different plans in store for the troubled, grieving young man; plans that appear in the shapely form of Sophie (Shannon Shultz) who stumbles across Bobby as he fishes in an isolated mountain stream.

Drawn to Sophie in spite of his desire to be alone, Bobby finds himself hanging out with the sweet and soft-spoken country girl every day, and soon learns of her obsession with the country of Panama. Eventually, Bobby tries to break it off with her and revert to his original plan of isolation, only to discover that, once she informs him in a “Dear John” letter that she’s heading to Panama with a longtime Panamanian pen pal, he really doesn’t want to so alone after all. In one of those impulsive youthful moments, Bobby sets out on an 8,000 mile road trip to Panama, accompanied by his estranged friend, Sam (Sam Baker).

“Straight Line” follows anything but a straight line in its narrative structure, jumping back and forth between three distinctive timelines and using distinctive visual styles for each. While the main emphasis in Ackerman’s soothing, pensive film is on the meandering road trip itself, the director complements this present day storyline with both his mother’s black and white ruminations on life from her hospital bed, as well as flashbacks to various stages of the young lovers’ halting relationship.

The result is a gentle tapestry on love and life; those choices made and the decisions avoided. Though maddeningly devoid of any real conflict, featuring characters who display all the emotional range of your average Vulcans, “Straight Line” is nonetheless rewarding in its simplicity and straightforward sense of purpose.

While Bobby drew a straight line on a map and in his mind’s eye between his Montana starting point and his Panamanian destination, the trip itself featured a number of unplanned detours. Yet, while that straight line may have been the shortest distance between two points, both Bobby and that ancient Greek mathematician would agree that a straight line is not always the best way to reach your destination.

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