SIFF MOVIE: The Off Hours (2010)

Francine is a young woman living in a rural Washington town whose life pretty much revolves around her dead-end, night-shift job at a local truck stop diner and a string of sexual encounters with pretty much anyone who seems interested, mostly in dingy bar and restaurant bathrooms (and, oh, honestly, is there anything more depressing than cheap sex in public restrooms?  Blargh).

It’s not much of a life and she knows it.  But she feels stuck, trapped.  She’s been there so long (12 years) she seems to have forgotten she ever had options, and the people she’s close to are similarly cycling and recycling through their own personal circles of hell:  her boss, Stu, an alcoholic divorcé with a teenage daughter he rarely sees; Jelena, a middle-aged Serbian waitress who spends her off hours sleeping with truckers in her motel apartment; and Corey, Fran’s roommate and foster brother, who’s so furiously in love with her he can hardly stand talking to her anymore.

One night, Francine spots a new face at the diner.  She introduces herself, pours him some coffee, and the two begin to chat — his name’s Oliver, he’s a truck driver who’s just started a new route, he’s married with two kids, blah blah.  Over the next few weeks, they become friends — him looking for her through the diner windows as soon as he pulls into the parking lot, her face lighting up as soon as she spots him.  Turns out he’s sort of on the other side of “stuck;” he was a banker for ten years and when his branch closed, he decided he was tired of a 9-to-5 existence and took a leap into the life of trucking just to try something new.  Now he’s hardly at home, always on the move, his wife growing more and more frustrated by the week.  Unstuck in some ways, for sure.  But perhaps more stuck than ever in others.

When a series of things go wrong at roughly the same time, it seems to dawn on Francine at last that she’s in charge of her own destiny.  With a line of nudges all giving her a collective shove, she decides it’s time to unstick herself.  How she does it is the final scene of this mesmerizing, gorgeously-made film, and it takes what is otherwise a painful story of desolate, dark sadness and drops a light right into it.  A flare goes up.  And you leave the film knowing Francine’s gonna be just fine.

Goddamn, I loved that final scene.

In fact, there were so many things I loved about this haunting film I hardly know where to begin.  The acting is incredible, the writing is tight and authentic, the story is engaging and relateable, and the visuals — wow.  I’ve heard people raving about local cinematographer Ben Kasulke for years, and though I’ve seen a few of his other films, this is the first time I really understood what all the hoopla was about.  The colors, the crispness, the still shots, the long shots — this movie does everything visually great art is supposed to do.  It moves you; it picks you up and takes you right to it.  And it does it subtly, quietly, perfectly.  In between scenes, there were often quick stills of images from around the town — a beat-up truck here, a broken rocking chair there, an angled shot of the diner counter that made it look like it went on forever (oof, so great), a close-up of Francine’s face that showed every pore of loveliness and despair.  By the middle of the film, I found myself wishing I could get a print of every single one of those shots to frame and hang on a wall where I’d see them every day.  They were that good.

They were lovely, in fact.  In fact, lovely is the right word for every element of this film.

This film is lovely.

Highly, highly recommended.  And I can’t wait to see what director/writer Megan Griffiths does next.  Here’s hoping it doesn’t take her a decade to make her second film (as this one did), because the world shouldn’t have to wait so long to be so incredibly moved again.  A masterpiece.

[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre:  Drama, Indie
Cast:  Amy Seimetz, Ross Partridge, Tony Doupe, Scoot McNairy, Gergana Mellin, Lynn Shelton, Bret Roberts, Madeline Elizabeth

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