TIFF19 REVIEW: III [2019]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★


Rating: NR | Runtime: 44 minutes | Release Date: 2019 (USA)
Studio: Neighborhood Watch
Director(s): Kevin Phillips
Writer(s): Kevin Phillips & Wesley Schultz

“No one said enough is enough”

I’ve never been one to pay attention to lyrics. All I need is a good tune, complementary voice, and the joy their marriage instills. So I didn’t think twice when The Lumineers‘ latest single “Gloria” hit the radio. Its folk rock melody was as upbeat and fun as any of the other songs they’ve released like “Ho Hey” or “Ophelia.” Little did I know that the words Wesley Schultz put to Jeremiah Fraites‘ music depicted a dark scene of addiction—one very close to his heart. It ends up that the band’s third record III is a concept album about that very topic and how its insidious nature can permeate the very fabric of a family to ensure its damage lasts much longer than its victims ever do.

Accompanying the music is a series of videos from director Kevin Phillips that draw upon the record’s three-chapter arc of mother (Anna Cordell‘s Gloria), grandson (Charlie Tahan‘s Junior), and son (Nick Stahl‘s Jimmy). While each stands alone as a visual depiction of its individual song, the whole combines to tell the Sparks family’s story of infidelity, crime, violence, and warped love through three generations. You’d like to believe that one’s descent towards oblivion wouldn’t ultimately affect the next, but a tragedy like that hits hard no matter its inevitability. To grow up without a mother is to deal with anger devoid of an outlet. And finding a glimmer of hope through survival often compounds future hardships into becoming catalysts for one’s own self-destruction. The cycle is never-ending.

Phillips plays with time as each act moves between past and present to provide audiences setting and characters before motivations are revealed via additional context. This is why we meet Gloria and her husband William (Joshua Close) in apparent happiness during “Donna” until it all devolves into the anguish that will linger on to the end. We rewind to “Life in the City” and witness her vices first-hand before “Gloria” puts things into motion with a rousing progression through overdose, screaming matches, and an inability to cope. Actions like kicking out the screen door eventually repeat themselves to ground us inside this silent film (The Lumineers’ music is all we hear besides the sporadic inclusion of atmospheric sound generally saved until the end of each vignette).

Next we meet the timid Junior as he tries hard to escape a fate tied to his DNA and the father who inherited his volatility from the boy’s grandmother. My mind for the most part separated images from songs to let the latter work as augmentation while the former played out the real drama in its tragically unavoidable way. The two exceptions to this rule were “Gloria” (probably because I’ve heard the song often these past few months) and “Jimmy Sparks.” I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these are the tracks named after lead characters (Donna is Gloria’s mom as seen in flashback) since they really drive home the futility of life under the influence. The latter’s message is devastating and unsurprisingly my favorite of the whole.

Some passages are weaker than others if only because of a redundancy of themes or the prolonged stay forced upon us since the plot is never progressed forward without the next song beginning. While this means the pieces often prove better in isolation, the best hit harder because of what came before them. That they work so well in concert is a testament to Schultz and Fraites’ compositions as well as Phillips’ ability to maintain a consistent through-line with an abstract, metaphorical use of characters in service of memory and emotion. Performances are at times over-the-top (especially with an abundance of slomotion), but that aligns with the heightened dramatic potency of the subject matter on display. This was never the kind of story to promise a happy ending.


photography:
courtesy of TIFF

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