Spring Forward exemplifies what American indies—so often pie-eyed with genre hypercoolness, egomania, and fatuous ambition—should be best at: modesty, attentive realism, conceptual rigor, believable performances, and a healthy, uncommercial respect for real people, real talk, and real life. An indie actor and theater hound, director Tom Gilroy has even constructed his microbudgeted movie organically: a dual-character study of two New England Parks Department workers—one aging, one young and thrumming with problems—shot in sequence over the course of a year. The easy slide into stilted speechifying and “character arc” is an ever present risk, but Gilroy keeps the reins taut—the conversational setups and delivered exposition are as sly and natural as American movies seem to be capable of. Paul (Liev Schreiber) is an uneducated ex-con who, when we meet him his first day on the job, has to gab about his crime and time; Murph (Ned Beatty), a weary, practical retiree-to-be, doesn’t want to hear it. The movie simply leaps along from there, from spring to midwinter, punctuated by lovely visual haiku of quotidian routine (opening a pool, burning leaves, playing street hockey) that slow the movie down to a contemplative stroll.
The sense of continuing life is quietly remarkable. The two men are never at odds in a formulaic way, so their accumulating rapport and mutual fondness don’t seem fake, even when Murph enjoys his first spliff and Paul attempts to communicate his study of Buddhism. Reuniting every few months to pick up where they left off, the actors don’t struggle—time does a lot of the work, just as some plot elements (like Peri Gilpin’s sexy appearance as a puppy-swamped love interest for Paul) vanish with the passing seasons. Gilroy’s script isn’t brilliant: Clichés have free run of the joint (“What goes around comes around”; “Haste makes waste!”), and some of the over-philosophical dialogue rings Hollywood fake. But so much of what’s there sounds right; by the climactic mini-melodrama involving a battered wife standing on a frozen lake, you’ve gotten to know these men as men. Beatty is the movie’s glue, but all he does is remind us that he might be the best natural actor in the country. Watching him listen and react (even to Campbell Scott’s officious blue blood), you cannot help but become aware of how most movie acting is posturing goatcrap. With one great scene—a regretful moment of remembrance on the back porch of the funeral parlor where his gay son is being waked—Beatty steals the year’s meager thunder.
Displaying a good deal less respect for marginalized average-guyness, Paolo Agazzi’s sumptuously shot but stodgily staged Bolivian trifle The Day Silence Died sets up a near Buñuelian premise and then bags out. A mustachioed con man (Dario Grandinetti) arrives at a dusty, pre-electric hamlet and installs his own radio station, complete with loudspeakers and pay rates for villagers who want to dedicate songs, make public announcements, and, eventually, roast each other for sins real and imagined. Little fallout, comic or otherwise, results; instead, the stranger becomes besotted with a deranged cuckold’s imprisoned daughter (who’s forever bathing or doing laundry). Though an eccentric writer (Gustavo Angarita) may or may not have created the whole shebang on the page (at one point, he complains, “My characters are getting boring,” and he’s not wrong), Agazzi’s movie rather provincially hints at sexiness, humor, and satire without actually manifesting them.
Which is already more than anyone can say for Jorge Ameer’s Strippers, one of a barely acknowledged sub-breed of indie: howling-vanity amateur-work that finds its way into a theater only because the producers buy the room out for a week. Exotic-dancer-free, Ameer’s sludgy ordeal entails the Job-like wreckage of an L.A. suit’s life and finances; Kafkaesque chuckles might have been the goal, but it’s impossible to tell. Rave about it to someone you loathe.