Kailey (Famke Janssen) is getting on 40, living in an upstate limbo, driving to NYC for clandestine meetings with the 12-year-old that son her ex-stepmom tries to keep from her. She’s undesirable because she lives off poker and trolling money games at Rip Torn’s underlit, underpopulated pool hall (its drabness accentuated by a sludgy 16mm transfer). When a woman fills a traditionally male role, you’re bound to find strange frictions—scenes around the pool table are fraught as each pocketed ball impacts the egos involved, the tactile threat of imperiled manhood a constant undertone. While buying the freshly exfoliated Janssen as a beer-battered hard case requires suspended disbelief, her low-key treatment beats the ostentatious frowsing-down that’s usually counterfeited for range when a beautiful woman plays “against type.” Writer-director by Chris Eigeman, one of America’s finest comic actors (best showcased in Whit Stillman’s films), seems aware of the risk that his film runs of drifting into the untenable, and so he painstakingly anchors it with double knots of character development, weaving in a network of supporting parts and a real sense of how people support or subvert one another in their screwed-up relationships. Turn the River can’t weather the ante-upping into pathos when Kailey desperately reasserts her privilege of motherhood—but the sense of storytelling intelligence is undeniable.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 6, 2008