‘Old Joy’ wears the label of Independent American film on its sleeve with great pride. At a mere 76 minutes in length, the bulk of what we watch consists of extended shots of green forests sweeping by as filmed from the inside of a car driving by at cruising speed. The subject matter is rich with potential – urban alienation, the rifts in friendship caused by an individual’s choice of lifestyle and most importantly, the aching desire for the blissfulness of years gone by. But what we get is a perfect example of what happens when a short story is stretched to feature film length.
Kurt (Will Oldham) is visiting town and reconnects with best friend Mark (Daniel London), a well settled adult now awaiting the onslaught of fatherhood, by offering to drive him down to a hot spring nearby. What’s his agenda? Apparently, nothing, but the film is too subtle and sly to leave it at just that. On their journey, which isn’t really the purpose of the film to pursue, and it wisely doesn’t, they revisit, with great fondness, tales of yesteryears with a melancholic longing. Mark, as Kurt slowly realizes, has found his comfort zone with the life he now leads – holding on to his mobile phone and as Mark mockingly points out, his preference for dry toasts. Kurt on the other hand remains one of those people who prefers using a lot of ‘totally’ in his sentences as a substitute for proper adjectives (this gives him more character, you see). All of this is made apparent to viewers fairly quickly. The remainder of the film is filled with abstract conversations revolving around new theories in Physics (no kidding…) to old pals and what they might be up to now, or personal rants such as ‘the universe is a tear drop dropping through space’ with the reactions of either Kurt or Mark strengthening the notion that the only reason the two have agreed to get together is to test the waters of their now fledging friendship.
In what has to be one of the most arduous screenings I’ve had to endure, the film is bound to make any viewer restless, as it slowly, almost painfully hurtles toward nothingness. The only slight respite comes in the form of the luscious folk guitar score attributed to Yo La Tengo, the inclusion of which accentuates the dreamy, unfazed sequences focusing on the serene surrounding nature. At best inconsequential, ‘Old Joy’ has a strong theme, but almost no story to tell.
- by Faizan Rashid [Rated 2 out of 5]