Monday, February 24, 2014

Indie Acting Opportunity: Barefoot Is More Charming Than Sensible.

The Good: Acting, Some wonderful lines, Moments of character
The Bad: Utterly preposterous plot
The Basics: The indie romantic drama Barefoot pairs a con man and a sheltered young woman on a cross-country adventure.

There are some people who I cannot understand society’s reaction to. The actress Evan Rachel Wood is one such individual. She was the breakout star on Once And Again (Season one is reviewed here!), but has never really exploded into celebrity that one of her acting talent actually deserves. Whether she likes it or not, Wood has been relegated to the indie movie scene as opposed to mainstream blockbusters. Maybe it’s that she looks for better, more substantive roles, but there is something wrong with a world where Katherine Heigl has a more viable career than Evan Rachel Wood. Coming off the indie success The Necessary Death Of Charlie Countryman (reviewed here!), Evan Rachel Wood is once again highlighting on the off-beat, indie, almost no one will actually see, movie scene with Barefoot.

Barefoot is a dramedy that is vaguely reminiscent of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (reviewed here!) and pretty much any road trip movie ever. Despite its rather preposterous plot conceit (the wanted man and the mental patient get incredibly far, largely on the incompetence of medical professionals, TSA authorities, and police officers), Barefoot is rich with charm. Despite a somewhat predictable plot progression, there are some decent moments of surprise or the refusal to go in the most obvious possible way – the cover story that the protagonist builds around his mysterious woman for the family event he drags her to quickly comes undone with more than half the movie to go, forcing the story to be about quite a bit more than how the lies come unraveled.

Jay, a young man who has parted ways with his wealthy family, owes mobsters in Los Angeles $37,000 and they expect it by Friday. He decides to go to New Orleans for his brother’s wedding in a last-ditch attempt to get the money he needs. Working at the psychiatric hospital, he encounters the naïve and shellshocked Daisy. Daisy’s mother died, leaving her with no idea how to function in the world to the extent that after Jay rescues her from another patient in the hospital, she follows him outside barefoot. After borrowing clothes from his stripper friends, Daisy accompanies Jay back to his family’s rich estate where she sticks out, but surprisingly improvises well to help Jay deal with his reticent father.

After Jay’s mother makes Daisy over for the wedding, Jay uses the reception as a chance to get the money he needs from his father. When Jay’s father presses Daisy for details on her life and identity, she has an anxiety attack and the truth comes out. Swiping the family camper, Jay and Daisy begin the drive back to Los Angeles from New Orleans. After ditching Daisy in Shreveport, Jay has a change of heart. But going back for her puts the pair (and their vintage camper) on the police radar and the trip through the Mid-South becomes a bonding experience for the two.

The characters in Barefoot are interesting, even when they have moments of obviousness. The relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler is one that is an obvious dichotomy from the moment they first appear. Mr. Wheeler is the brains, the financer, the provider archetype, while Mrs. Wheeler is the family’s heart. The film never tries to go much deeper with them. Similarly, Dr. Bertleman is presented solely as a supporting character to remind viewers of the menace to Jay on his way back to Los Angeles before the police start making regular appearances. Bertleman is played expertly by the ever-reliable supporting player J.K. Simmons, but it’s not a role that affords Simmons the chance to do much in the way of acting.

Even Jay is somewhat minimally presented. There is a past incident which makes his willingness to turn around for Daisy multiple times more sensible than an authorial oversight. And while much of the journey of Barefoot is supposed to be his, Jay is entirely overshadowed by Evan Rachel Wood’s Daisy. Daisy is beyond naïve and the humor surrounding her character is enjoyable, though largely based on one note – she has been sheltered her entire life so everything is new to her.

What keeps Daisy from being monotonous, boring or entirely droll is Evan Rachel Wood. Wood sells Daisy through an entirely consistent performance. She is homogenously wide-eyed and eager without a hint of depth or dark side in a way that only a great actress could truly pull off. There is no hint in Wood’s performance that Daisy has ever heard, much less met, Marilyn Manson (whom Evan Rachel Wood dated back in the day, a reference worth making only in that Wood’s character is so sheltered, earnest and unassuming that it’s hard to imagine how Daisy would react to even seeing a photograph of the singer!). In addition to selling the humor, Wood has to repeat the same line about eating things many, many times, Wood’s performance abilities sell the film’s biggest dramatic beats. There is an absolutely heartbreaking moment when Daisy says cleaning is how one earns love and between her delivery and Scott Speedman’s reaction – which director Andrew Fleming masterfully captures – that a lesser performer would have dropped. Evan Rachel Wood powerfully renders the moment and creates a character well worth watching.

Moody and interesting, Barefoot becomes forgivable for its lack of realism with the performances, charm and sense that the film is actually one where almost anything could happen, which is a rarity in today’s cinema. It’s worth a trip to the art theater to watch.

For other works with Scott Speedman, please check out my reviews of:
The Vow


For other film and television reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing.

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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