Thursday, January 12, 2017

Claire in Motion: The Missing Ornithologist

The act of faking one’s death has become common enough to require its own term: pseudocide. Initially, Claire Hunger merely assumes her missing husband is laying injured somewhere. However, the more time we spend with the emotionally stunted Hunger, the more we will be convinced Mr. Hunger bailed for the good of his soul early in Annie J. Howell & Lisa Robinson’s Claire in Motion (trailer here) which opens tomorrow in New York.

Paul Hunger assures his wife he is over his dizzy spells, so he can safely go on his extreme survivalist solo camping excursion. Umm, okay. Needless to say, Prof. Hunger, the ornithologist, does not turn up when he is supposed to. The local sheriff’s department scours the woods, but they only find his empty car. When the authorities give him up for dead and/or gone, Prof. Hunger the mathematician, refuses to give up dragging their son Connor into the woods on their own private searches, until the lad finally refuses.

As pessimism sets in, Math Hunger learns the first of several surprising revelations. After doing a bit of feather consulting for the art department, Bird Hunger started collaborating on a large-scale installation with Allison, an attractive New Agey grad student. The fact they almost assuredly never engaged in any hanky-panky maybe makes it an even greater betrayal. Suddenly, Claire Hunger realizes she did not know her husband nearly as well as she thought.

Even though Claire is set in motion by a mystery, the tone is much closer to Josephine Decker’s recent films than the procedural series Without a Trace. There are no ticking clocks in Howell & Robinson’s picture, but there is no shortage of brooding and angst. There are a lot of very credible human emotions in Motion, but they are portrayed in a decidedly un-cinematic manner. If you put a stop-watch to the film, you would probably find Claire Hunger spends more time staring out into space than actually talking to people. Betsy Brandt’s lead performance is certainly intense, but the titular Claire sort of functions as a black hole, sucking in all the life and oxygen surrounding her.

Of course, that makes Paul’s pseudo-betrayal with Allison entirely believable. As Art Allison, Anna Margaret Hollyman is nearly Claire Hunger’s polar opposite. She is also decidedly annoying, in her own distinct ways, but Hollyman frequently infuses the film with much needed energy and a cutting edge.

Frankly, the visuals of cinematographer Andreas Burgess might just be too pretty and sun-dappled. What this film desperately needs is a little grit. (We also believe any film that uses the word ornithology should be required to feature Charlie Parker on the soundtrack, because it makes us think of Bird, so we might as well hear some Bird.) Ultimately, it is too reminiscent of films like Rania Attieh & Daniel Garcia’s H., in which the mystery is so thoroughly wrapped up in an enigma, it becomes unapproachable. There is a certain segment of the market that uncritically hail Motion with the latest critical buzzwords, but most viewers will find frustratingly distancing. For the former, it opens tomorrow (1/13) in New York, at the Cinema Village.