Ellen Barkin Goes Nuts in Shit Year


The second feature from Cam Archer stars Ellen Barkin as Colleen, a fiftyish fading star who, after making “35 films in 30 years,” leaves Hollywood for a cabin in the woods and goes a little nuts. Colleen is unable to sleep thanks to constant construction in the soon-to-be-spoilt wilderness to which she’s retreated, and the film—shot in stark, sparkling black-and-white—takes the form of her mixed-up memories, hallucinations, and dreams. Just pre-retirement, she had fallen into an affair with 22-year-old Harvey (Luke Grimes), and most of her visions have to do with their time together, the melancholy fatalism that kept Colleen from enjoying the relationship while it was happening, and the regrets that haunt her in Harvey’s absence. Gorgeous and epically elliptical, Shit Year is hampered by what seems to be an allergy to sincerity. A stylist apparently influenced by Andy Warhol, Archer never stages a conversation without putting it in quotes, making it as difficult to connect to Colleen as she finds it to connect to others. (Some viewers might connect to the scene in which Bob Einstein, playing Colleen’s square brother, responds to her spacey introspection by checking his watch and admitting, “That’s a little over my head.”) But Barkin is often fascinating in playing a character who, in both her heroic bitchery and hysterical sadness, is more of a concept than a person, in a film that ultimately seems to be “about” nothing more or less than the actress’ magnetic face.