Sunday, August 12, 2007

"Off the Map"

Off the Map (2003) is an odd little drama about an odd little family. It's a coming of age story for precocious, homeschooled 11 year-old Bo ("my real name is Cecilia Rose"), and a "finding oneself" story for several of the other characters.

Bo and her parents live in the New Mexico desert without phone or electricity. They grow and kill their own food, and whatever else they need they barter for or find at the dump. Her father Charley (Sam Neill -- one of those seen-him-before, can't-remember-where actors, very good, wonderful voice) is suffering from debilitating depression. He barely speaks or moves. Her mother Arlene (Joan Allen) is holding up as best she can doing everything that needs to be done, which in a self-sufficient household is a ton. There is both depth and simplicity in Arlene's character, which Allen plays masterfully. Bo's godfather, George, is around a lot but doesn't say much himself.

One day a hapless IRS agent arrives at their door filthy, sweaty and on foot -- his car long since abandoned as he got lost and disoriented trying to find the place. His mission was to track down unpaid taxes, but he is stung by an insect and collapses, feverish, on the couch. He recovers in a few days; he stays for eight years.

New Mexico itself -- Land of Enchantment -- plays a strong role in the film.

I squirmed a bit at the slow pace of this movie, but strongly recommend it overall. I enjoyed all the literal and figurative meanings of its title and how they played out in the characters' lives. In retrospect there are some loose ends, some bits that didn't quite fit, but no fatal flaws.

See it, tell me what you think.

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