RIVER OF GRASS

 (Kelly Reichardt, USA, 1994) 76 minutes

RIVER OF GRASS

Director: Kelly Reichardt
Producer: Jesse Hartman
Screenplay: Kelly Reichardt
Cinematography: Jim Denault
Editor: Larry Fessenden
Music: John Hill
Lisa Bowman (Cozy)
Larry Fessenden (Lee Ray Harold)
Dick Russell (Jimmy Ryder)
Stan Kaplan (J.C.)
Michael Buscemi (Doug)
Lisa Robb (Young Cozy)

Reviews and notes

Festivals:
1994 Sundance, Berlin
2005 Toronto (restored)



Reichardtís debut feature is a quick-witted film whose appeal is as much a matter of tone and style as story. When thirty-year-old Cory comes to the realization that her life isnít all it might be - her lackadaisical husband, three kids, and house on a soggy acre in Broward County, Florida, leave something to be desired - she sneaks out one night to a local bar and meets her destiny, an aimless and enigmatic young drifter named Lee. While engaging in a little late-night pool-hopping, the pair encounters an annoyed homeowner. Unfortunately for all concerned, Lee has chosen this moment to show Cory his pistol. The gun goes off and the couple flees. So begins a low-key but captivating escapade that provokes amusement and incredulity as this bungling Bonnie and Clyde live the life of outlaws who canít seem to get it right. Shot on a minuscule budget, with a stark atmosphere, this is original, controlled filmmaking by creative independents who clearly understand the B-movie legacy theyíre tapping into.
- Geoffrey Gilmore, Sundance Film Festival


First-time writer-director Kelly Reichardt's River of Grass, a winner about losers, evokes the tired lovers-on-the-run genre only to stand it on its head and shake out of it fresh meanings and humor.

At every turn, Reichardt confounds predictability, confronting us with the awful banality of many people's everyday lives rather than providing her characters with an escape from it. Yet Reichardt is so agile, ingenious and funny that she can make a lively, entertaining movie about how life isn't like the movies.

Lisa Bowman stars as Cozy, a 30ish mother of three who lives in a drab suburb of Florida's Broward County with her police detective father Jimmy (Dick Russell) and her dull husband. Cozy, who also narrates in a flat, affectless voice, becomes so overcome by her awareness of her loneliness, she dresses up one Friday night and heads for a local bar, where she meets Lee (Larry Fessenden). He's a man her age, an equally lonely layabout who also grew up in a broken home and who's at last been thrown out of the house he's shared his entire life with his grandmother and mother. Sheer chance has thrust a gun in Lee's hands.

Cozy and Lee could scarcely be more ordinary. Everything about them, starting with their appearance, is average. They lack the skills, financial security and opportunity to live anything but the bleakest existence.

But in crossing paths they ignite within each other the possibility of a life of freedom and adventure. Circumstances lead them to believe they could be killers on the lam, but they're essentially decent people capable of being thrown by the lack of a quarter at a toll gate. They haven't a clue as to how to be a Bonnie or Clyde.

The workings of fate, so crucial to the genre Reichardt is sending up, become for her a source of rueful humor, and she's blessed with a cameraman in Jim Denault able to help her immeasurably in sustaining the film's dry sense that life is always going to be off kilter for Cozy and Lee, played selflessly by Bowman and Fessenden.

In the film's other key role, Russell captures perfectly the sense of defeat experienced by Jimmy, a handsome man and onetime professional jazz drummer now in his paunchy, disillusioned 50s. Reichardt's own summing up of her movie couldn't be better: "A road movie without the road, a love story without the love and crime story without the crime."
- Kevin Thomas, LA Times, 13 October 1995.



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