Something, Anything begins with images that threaten such blissfully generic Americana—a handsome Tennessee couple gets engaged, gets married, and learns they’re going to have a baby—that any seasoned viewer will be on guard almost immediately, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Drop it does, but rather than measure a trauma and its aftermath to melodramatic proportions, writer-director Paul Harrill turns what at first appears as Kodak moments into a study of a soul in transition.
Seeming to have everything arranged for a happy life of placid marital duty and procreation, real estate agent Margaret (Ashley Shelton) finds herself at an unexpected crossroads when she suffers a miscarriage. With no one to blame, but feeling suddenly repulsed by her affectionate but slightly callous new husband, the film documents the aftermath of the loss as a slow supernova taking place in Margaret’s psyche. Choosing not to unload her grief on caring friends and relatives, Ashley at first buries herself in work, then gradually becomes fascinated by, and drawn to, the monastic life now led by a half-remembered high school friend.
Anyone who’s seen Europa ’51 will sense a pattern. In Roberto Rossellini’s film, Ingrid Bergman played a complacent, materialistic housewife, not unlike Margaret, whose grieving response to the inexplicable death of her young son eventually made itself manifest in a total break from her stable, “happy” life, turning instead toward a search for meaning, and a devotion to altruism. As much as both films tell the story of an “everywoman” coping with tragedy, they also give us the other side: the friends, family, and other concerned parties who cannot abide an able-bodied woman’s dereliction of duty, partly because they represent the forces of cultural repression. But also because, accustomed as they are to their own circumstances, they fail to see why anyone would want to go hunting for something else, something bigger than themselves.
Opening with the Christina Rossetti poem “Who Has Seen the Wind?” on a title card, Something, Anything is as much about the imprint of the intangible as it is about Margaret’s journey. Rather than pushing her to extremes, the film is content to follow her as she seeks to reacquire a sense of equilibrium following an escape from her “normal life.” Harrill often favors close-ups of objects and hands, or else depicting life and work from oblique angles, and editing with a patient, softly elliptical style, leaving it to the viewer’s intelligence to forge connections and fill in unspoken words. Unusual for a story of this kind, the voices around Margaret take their turns trying to exert various kinds of influence, positive and negative alike. Margaret isn’t immune to these external forces of attraction, any more than she can ignore the eruptions taking place inside her. Such as it is in life: Despite what movies often show, when we undergo crises that turn our friends into strangers, everyone we love isn’t united in a chorus of disapproval. Margaret’s miscarriage, in script terms an “inciting event,” brings her attention to a void in her life that was already there. Something, Anything is the story of how she learns to recognize it, and whether or not she figures out what should go there.