DVD Review: In Montauk

STUDIO: Siren’s Tale Productions | DIRECTOR: Kim Cummings | CAST: Nina Kaczorowski, Lukas Hassel, George Katt, Carolina Caro, Ozzie Stewart
DVD RELEASE DATE: 2/28/2014 | PRICE: DVD $19.99
BONUSES: none
SPECS: NR | 68 min. | Drama romance | 16:9 widescreen | 5.1 stereo

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

 

Independent films – truly independent films­ carry a freedom that is both a blessing and a curse. Sure, they don’t have to cater to the rigid, formulaic demands of Hollywood’s studios, but they also lack the checks and balances that would prevent someone from hanging themselves with too much creative rope. Writer/director Kim Cummings’ 2012 debut feature In Montauk exemplifies both these traits with a subtle narrative that is both emotionally complex and sloppily crafted.

In Montauk movie scene

Nina Kaczorowski and Lukas Hassel star in In Montauk.

Julie (Nina Kaczorowski) finds herself alone in the Long Island beach town of Montauk during the off­season. You quickly learn that she’s married, expecting a child, and working on her new photography project. You also quickly learn that an attractive, tall, Scandinavian composer (Lukas Hassel) has rented the room next door. She’s considering aborting, and she’s not really interested in her husband’s opinion on the subject—hence  her self­imposed isolation as she sorts everything out An accident on the steps conveniently sprains her ankle and forces her to solicit help from her sexy neighbor,  whom she soon enlists as a photo model. Predictably, they end up in bed together,  prompting a separation between Julie and her husband when she returns to their Queens’ home. Though the two eventually reunite to raise the child, Julie’s art show’s opening brings her husband (with baby) and her lover together in an awkward and ambiguous confrontation, while she drives off, alone.

Yes, the film delivers a portrait of a woman not usually found in Hollywood. There are no simple answers, no moralizing, no tidy lessons to be learned. But there’s a fine line between ambiguity and sloppiness, one that In Montauk crosses unapologetically. Even though Julie claims she’s a professional photographer, neither the cheap camera she uses nor the pretentious photos she takes give you any reason to believe this is the case. Her sprained ankle seems to come and go as needed, and the way her husband catches her cheating (she decides to answer her phone while in her lover’s bed) is too ridiculous to take seriously. Minor quibbles on their own, perhaps, but there’s a plain lack of attention to several basic story details that borders on arrogant, as if the filmmaker just couldn’t be bothered to create realistic situations for her characters.

More troubling, however, is that you’re never given any insights into the characters’ motives. The theme of a pregnant artist feeling ambivalent about losing her identity via motherhood is definitely worth exploring, but we never really get to the exploring part. It’s as if merely presenting the idea is enough, and the audience is expected to fill in the rest. Is she a valiant feminist, or just incredibly selfish? The lovers seem to hook up more out of boredom than any genuine attraction, but later, the film claims otherwise. And Julie’s husband is portrayed as a useless extra limb, without any regard into showing us why.

While In Montauk aims high in its attempt to challenge our notions of gender roles, Cummings tries so hard to be ambiguous, she robs her characters of substance. The acting, editing and cinematography are all solid, but that’s not quite enough. Viewers tired of the same homogenized Hollywood stuff might appreciate In Montauk’s efforts, even if they wince at its faults.

 

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About Memo

Memo Salazar attempts many things and accomplishes few. His big three are making films, music, and comics, but he'll throw photography, graphic design and film criticism into the ring for good measure. He'll even make you a hand-painted t-shirt if you ask nicely. You can track his activity here when there's nothing else to do at work.