Re-Enactors Get Their Own Sweet Family Movie with The Discoverers


In his debut feature, Justin Schwarz is clearly drawing from the same bag of tricks as many of his indie comedy predecessors, but he’s refining them. Even his wide, Wes Anderson-ian compositions have a purpose.

Paintings are everywhere in this film about shaping history, setting up a nostalgic framework before the central characters forge out into the semi-unknown.

After the death of his mother, harried academic Lewis (Griffin Dunne) is forced to return home to Idaho with moody teens in tow. They arrive to find that grieving Grandpa Stanley (Stuart Margolin) has begun to take his “rather unhealthy Lewis and Clark obsession” to the next level. And so the disgruntled tribe sets off, period costumes and all, re-enacting the 1804 expedition with a band of history buffs in order to humor the family patriarch. Madeleine Martin demonstrates furtive indie starlet potential as daughter Zoe, speaking in a Daria Morgendorffer–style monotone tinged with more sweetness than snark.

Much of the comedy stems from her weary observations (“Did we just see some white dude in war paint and leather skivvies?”), vegan diet, and droll demeanor throughout one of the more disastrous dad-running-out-for-tampons scenarios ever portrayed on film. In contrast, son Jack (Devon Graye) doesn’t say much at all besides the occasional “cool.” The dysfunction may be perfunctory, but in this gorgeous natural setting — Schwarz makes full use of the stunning woods — it feels like new territory.

The discovering in question involves fathers discovering who their children have grown up to be, and the idea of history, or a clumsy re-enactment of history, is played well as a metaphor for one’s own lineage.