Tuesday, November 13, 2012

First Winter: It’s the End of the World, but Hippies Still Smell

When the end of the world comes, Manhattan will be the first to go.  That is truly a blessing.  In contrast, it would be a fate worse than death to be trapped with the yoga hippies communing upstate in Benjamin Dickinson’s slightly apocalyptic First Winter (trailer here), which opens in Williamsburg (of course it does) this Friday.

There is only one reason Paul’s yoga groupies should not be considered a cult.  It would simply imply a degree of organization they lack.  Basically, he leads yoga sessions in between getting stoned and sleeping with the women of his choice, until the world ends.  Caught up in their own little universe, the yoga minions sort of miss the big bang when it happens.  They just see a bit of smoke and wonder what happened to their friends who never came back from town.

They try to carry on as usual, but sexual issues threaten to spoil the scene.  For some reason, Paul dumps the cute (particularly for this group) Jen in favor of Marie, a comparatively drab old flame, who reappeared after the apocalypse.  Oh, and their supplies are dwindling.  Will the hippies be able to become self-sufficient? They live on a farm, after all.  Or will they die a cold, hungry death?

Frankly, it is real hard to care and why should we?  Nobody ever seems to be too broken up about the unfathomable human tragedy that presumably happened around them.  You might think the prospect of no more Phish tours or Deepak Chopra books would get them down, but everyone is more concerned about who is in Paul’s bed, including the jealous but drug addled Matt.

Why anyone would be attracted to the pasty white, scraggly haired bargain basement guru remains a mystery throughout the film.  It certainly cannot be explained by his self-absorbed personality.  Unfortunately, the narrative does not offer much snap to distract viewers.  In fact, the big climax comes and goes without viewers even realizing it at the time.  Ordinarily, this would be a major dramatic shortcoming, but for First Winter, an abrupt ending is a happy surprise.

In all truth, the most interesting thing about First Winter is the controversy surrounding a deer the production reportedly shot out of season for the big hunting scene, without a proper license.  Featuring shallow characters and a listless pace, First Winter is a hard, unpleasant slog.  Jennifer Kim and Haruka Hashimoto bring some charisma to their namesakes, but it is arguably out of place amongst the rest of the dull cast of characters. 

A failure on multiple levels, First Winter makes the presentable but not classic The Road seem like a masterpiece in retrospect.  Both films are vague about the nature of “the end,” but in the case of John Hillcoat’s adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel, it works in context.  In contrast, the Brooklyn hipster’s lack of curiosity is a conspicuous strain on viewer credibility.  Not recommended in any way, shape, or form, First Winter begins a six day run at Videology this Friday (11/16) in the County of Kings.