Jess + Moss


A beguilingly languid collection of sense impressions, Jess + Moss follows two cousins on opposite ends of adolescence as they pass a single summer together among the tobacco fields of western Kentucky. The setting of Clay Jeter’s Super 16 debut offers ample opportunity for the kind of found-junk art direction that has become practically de rigueur for naturalistic rural-set indies. Boom box strapped to her handlebars, willowy Jess (Sarah Hagan—Millie from Freaks and Geeks) regularly retreats with the younger Moss (Austin Vickers) to an abandoned two-story house in the process of sinking into the earth. Left entirely to their own devices, they conduct science experiments, admire fireworks displays, and explore barns, grain bins, and derelict vehicles, often in dreamy slow motion and to the accompaniment of reverb-soaked instrumentals or wistful popular melodies from yesteryear. But the movie rarely succumbs to pretty-ugly preciousness: Its rhythm is too unusual, and the unstable dynamic between the cousins is too carefully drawn. No real narrative takes shape, but Jeter does gradually reveal the aimless games and curious lines of questioning (Jess: “What’s the furthest you’ve gone with a girl?”) as distractions from the pain of being left behind. When alone, Jess often plays back a tape made by her absent mother; Moss, now living with his grandparents, hopefully absorbs instructions from a recall-conditioning cassette labeled “Megamemory.” The film itself, which occasionally starts, stops, and rewinds along with the tapes, seems conjured forth by way of one of these memory exercises—achingly sad and surpassingly lovely.