[originally published on GreenCine in 2008]
Is there something in the misty Northwest air that makes its filmmakers incline toward the dreamy, the open-ended, the unresolved? Seattle has had no slick Hollywood “breakthrough,” instead turning out poetic little movies that seem embarrassed about conventional storytelling.
This can be a good thing. Case in point: Lynn Shelton’s My Effortless Brilliance, a 2008 feature that browses through the delicate business of broken friendship. After a brief prologue, the film travels to a forest cabin where the grandly-named, once-promising novelist Eric Lambert Jones (played by Harvey Danger frontman Sean Nelson) has gone to maybe patch things up with the testy Dylan (Basil Harris), an old friend who got fed up with Eric’s narcissistic ways. For a day and a night, they drink, chop wood, talk around it.
Shelton’s ear for the coded behavior of male friendship is all too revealing, and the actors (she shares screenplay credit with the cast) hit just the right rhythms of awkwardness. Nelson, in particular, is a highly original presence whose comic instincts seem somehow too quick for such a large man. Bad behavior is exposed, issues are sorted, and then, after 79 minutes, the movie ends. It’s so unassuming you might wish it would assume a little more, but eavesdropping on these deftly-navigated conversations becomes a pleasure in itself. The observance of human behavior and language is one of the cinema’s greatest realms; some directors, Howard Hawks and Mike Leigh for instance, made careers out of it. Shelton is, with modesty, in that part of the forest too.