It’s never a good thing when you watch a film and you begin to don the role of editor, imagining how much better a scene could play out if certain shots were shifted around or dropped altogether. Such is the case with Campbell Scott’s Off the Map, a film Roger Ebert rightfully dubbed “unusual and affecting,” though I think “unusual and affected” is a more accurate description—unusual because the best way to describe the film is as a spectacle of Caucasian mysticism, affected because there isn’t a scene in the film that doesn’t feel as if it’s been contextualized to death by egregious narration. Somewhere in the New Mexico desert, 11-year-old Bo Groden (Valentina de Angelis) dreams of leaving her parents’ makeshift home and one day seeing the ocean. When an IRS agent, William Gibbs (Jim True-Frost), comes to audit the girl’s parents—the free-as-a-bird Arlene (Joan Allen) and the mysteriously depressed Charley (Sam Elliott)—a magical realist moment triggers a series of spiritual awakenings and everyone’s life is forever changed. Because it acknowledges the possibility of being poor and happy, Joan Ackermann’s play unravels as an anti-Curse of the Starving Class, and from the close-ups of Elliott’s perpetually teary-eyed face to the many intimate moments shared between its characters, Off the Map evokes cave paintings coming to life. This is fitting considering that this Eden in the wilds of Taos and a vision of a naked Arlene provokes an outsider artist out of True-Frost’s frustrated IRS man. But something seems to have been lost, or, rather, something carries over from the original stage production that should have been left behind: the suffocating intellectualism. Campbell’s images are intimate, sometimes otherworldly (most memorable is a heartbreaking dissolve at the end of the film that evokes the death of one character and the passage of time), but the film’s dialogue is cagey. I realize that a family’s mythology is the subject here, but must the characters all sound like cryptologists? To be fair, though, the major problem here isn’t how much (or how little) anyone talks, but the cold and flowery prose de Angelis’s Bo is saddled with (does she go on to become a New York Times bestselling writer?), and the narration the older Bo (Amy Brennamen) uses to coldly divide the film into a series of hyper-intellectualized anecdotes. How ’bout a Critic’s Cut of the film? Take out the specious narration-as-framing-device and let Campbell’s imagery speak for itself.
- Holedigger Studios
- 111 min
- Campbell Scott
- Joan Ackermann
- Joan Allen, Valentina de Angelis, Sam Elliott, J.K. Simmons, Jim True-Frost, Amy Brenneman
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: