Were it not so soporific, Off the Map could easily drive you off your nut. Opening two years after its Sundance premiere, Campbell Scott’s second solo feature—adapted by Joan Ackermann from her play—harks back to the wholesome granola the festival used to dispense two decades ago. Bo, an obnoxiously chattering 11-year-old (Valentina de Angelis) lives with her near catatonic dad (Sam Elliott) and old-soul mom (Joan Allen) somewhere in the drop-out exurbs of Taos, New Mexico.
Such action as there is, is largely filtered through Bo’s consciousness, a fount of sitcom one-liners. Dad’s grizzled western bud (J.K. Simmons) comes to hang out as Bo is home-schooled by Mom’s readings from Two Years Before the Mast. The world intrudes when a bumbling young revenue agent (Jim True-Frost) gloms the Edenic sight of Mom naked in her garden. At some point in the chastely hysterical montage, he’s stung by a bee—as could happen to anyone. He stays, moving into a blue school bus to take up water painting. As luck would have it, he too is clinically depressed and thus able to furnish Dad with some salutary pills.
Who are these people? Had the movie been made in the 1980s, they would have been wackos and fatties and the tax man a German tourist. But Off the Map is specifically set during the summer of 1974. (There’s a scene in which Mom ostentatiously ignores the sound of Nixon resigning on the radio.) Mystic signs signal through the lazy swirl of hippie-dippieness—Mom draws on her knowledge of Hopi medicine, there’s a coyote noble as a collie, and reference is made to a pet goat presciently named for the not yet cult star Harry Dean Stanton. Pondering the fashion statement of the family’s adobe spread, the revenue man dumbs down Easy Rider—instead of telling Dad that he’s doin’ his own thing in his own time, he simply notes, “I think you’re a genius.”
Gawrsh. Some actor-directors give performers license to wail. Scott is more restrained. True-Frost plays his character for vague comedy. After The Big Lebowski, which Elliott narrated, it might be difficult to take his thick-voiced cowboy gravitas as seriously as Off the Map does. Indeed, de Angelis’s noisy self-dramatizing notwithstanding, the perfs here are largely a matter of posing. Erect and watchful as she scans the horizon, Allen is a gingham Gary Cooper. She’s a weathered part of the landscape gently eroded by a zephyr of snores.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 1, 2005