Splendor in the grass
Cross Rushmore with Cheech and Chong and you might get Outside Providence, an unassuming fish-out-of-water, coming-of-age movie for stoners. Based on a novel by Peter Farrelly (of the Farrelly brothers) about growing up working-class in Rhode Island in the mid '70s, it's directed with great affection for the characters and milieu by fellow Rhode Islander Michael Corrente.
High-school senior Tim Dunphy (Shawn Hatosy) lives with his morose, bellicose father (Alec Baldwin), spunky, wheelchair-bound kid brother (Tommy Bone), and a three-legged dog in a weather-beaten house in Pawtucket. He spends most of his time getting wasted with his friends. An unfortunate accident leads to Tim being sent away to Cornwall Academy, a strict boarding school where, much to his surprise, he falls in with some hardcore potheads almost as congenial as the ones he grew up with. The only difference is that these boys are rich and college-bound. And when Jane (Amy Smart), the foxiest girl on campus (most of the time she seems like the only girl on campus), takes a shine to him, prep school no longer seems like jail. Jane likes to get wrecked every now and then, as long as it doesn't interfere with her studies.
Nothing much happens in Outside Providence,which is one of its charms, the other being its affirmative attitude toward marijuana. I think the message is that it's okay to party (or at least it was in the '70s) as long as you're not driving, but if you're so stoned all the time that your friends call you "Drugs," you probably won't live a long life.
Tim eventually proves himself by standing up for the woman he loves. I guess she knew from the moment she saw him misfire a Frisbee that he was the kind of guy who would watch her back. There's no other discernible reason for her to be enamored of him--especially not after he takes her home to meet his family and his friends, one of whom gets drunk and barfs all over Tim. That's the only vomit scene in Outside Providence,which is quite restrained about body fluids. There is, however, one pretty funny sight gag involving masturbation and another in which someone does something truly disgusting with spaghetti.
Hatosy, who's almost never off the screen, has a refreshingly unaerobicized bod and a broad, mobile face distinguished by teeth that look like he borrowed them from one of Maurice Sendak's Wild Things. Scruffy without being threatening, he's the embodiment of Corrente's vision. Originally a theater director, Corrente has a no-frills cinematic style that relies on performance for energy and excitement. The disadvantage is that the actors, particularly the adults, work too hard. That's especially true of Baldwin, who's so determined to do a good job playing a character at some remove from his leading-man image that you can see his acting wheels grinding away. Watching Baldwin slumped in his lounge chair with a half-gallon of ice cream as he tries to get up his courage to say something more heartfelt to his son than "Bye, Dildo" just makes you realize what a great character actor someone like Dustin Hoffman is.
Corrente does have a knack for getting out of a scene at exactly the right moment, which is always a couple of beats earlier than you might expect. Those beats add up. An unassuming 95 minutes in length, Outside Providence doesn't wear out the small welcome it's won.
Just as sweet, but somewhat more sophisticated, Rose Troche's Bedrooms and Hallways is a romantic comedy about twentysomething Londoners looking for love. Leo (Kevin McKidd) and Darren (Tom Hollander) are gay flatmates whose sexual fantasies run in opposite directions. Darren's current flame is a buttoned-up real-estate agent (Hugo Weaving) who enjoys using the homes to which he has professional access as he would his own. It's cheaper than doing it in hotels and twice as kinky. The more serious Leo scandalizes the men's group he's been attending by confessing that he has a crush on one of the members, a smoldering Irish hunk named Brendan. Much to Leo's surprise, Brendan, who's in the throes of breaking up with his girlfriend (the wonderful Jennifer Ehle), proves more than amenable to a new and different adventure. The problem for Leo is that Brendan may not be able to stop at one adventure.
Smartly written by Robert Farrar and performed with considerable panache, Bedrooms and Hallways could be the pilot for a television series (a gay-friendly Friends) except that it's more chaste than some of what's on British TV (the BBC series This Life, for example). Troche, who directed the no-budget lesbian romantic comedy Go Fish, shows that she's capable of a conventional style when the occasion warrants. But Bedrooms and Hallways doesn't play by the rules when it comes to identity politics, which may be what drew Troche to the material. Like Go Fish, it suggests that there's nothing as anarchic as sexual desire, and that when it comes to love affairs, nothing is as compelling as breaking a taboo, whether cultural or personal. Bedrooms and Hallways goes a step further by proposing that the common ground between gay and straight identities is that both are mutable. Doctrinaire gays may not approve, but, honestly, c'est la vie.
Split Screen, indie film guru John Pierson's magazine-style series, is back for another season on the Independent Film Channel. The success of The Blair Witch Project reestablishes Pierson as the numero uno indie rainmaker. Over two years ago, when Blair Witch was still just a figment of Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez's imaginations, Split Screen commissioned them to make a teaser about the film. Resourceful filmmakers that they are, they used the $10,000 fee from Split Screen as seed money for the film proper.
I can't call myself a fan of Split Screen,which seems overly enamored of the anti- intellectual, anti-aesthetic aspect of independent film. Something about the show encourages filmmakers, even those who should know better, to act like they're applying for membership in a fraternity of fun-loving geeks. Split Screen also confirms the general message of the indie film world, which is "Women keep away." (Last season's segment on Miranda July was an exception.) This season, the series has already blown a great opportunity by failing to include Sadie Benning in the opening show (September 6 at 8 p.m.) in the segment on Pixelvision. True, Pierson mentions her in his intro, but that's not the same as having her on screen. I don't care if she was traveling on the moon; the segment should not have been produced without her.
That said, the program begins promisingly with a segment in which Christopher Walken and Julien Schnabel do their version of a cooking show. It does for food preparation what John Lurie's Fishing With John does for, well, fishing. Walken, who, when he's in friendly company, has a smile that can light up a 40-inch TV screen and then some, is in rare form, and seems like he knows what he's doing in the kitchen. I'd try his exploding shrimp any day.
Get the Film & TV Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.