Blow the Man Down is a rather unique beast of a film, simultaneously dark as a pitch-black seaside Maine night and quietly humorous in the kinds of ways that make you feel guilty for laughing later. Set in Easter Cove, a rocky cliff of a village on the Maine Coast that proves that even the smallest village has its secrets and most folks will do just about anything to maintain those secrets as long as it also serves themselves well.
A distant, possibly incestuous cousin to Fargo, Blow the Man Down grabs you by the cockles of your heart in its opening scene and holds onto you with the gently seductive charms of the matriarchs who control just about everything that happens in this tiny town where the men are off fishin' and the women are just trying to not get caught in their ne'er-do-well ways. Co-written and directed by Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy, Blow the Man Down may over-extend itself a bit but it's so incredibly entertaining along the way you're destined to not mind all that much.
Winner of Tribeca Film Fest's Best Screenplay prize for narrative feature, Blow the Man Down may feel like it's a Coen Brothers film but if you're paying attention at all you'll quickly realize there's a whole lot more going on and this is a pretty wonderful creation all its own. Priscilla Connolly (Sophie Lowe, Beautiful Kate) and her sister Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor, White Girl) are in the early stages of dealing with the grief over the death of their mother and doing so in decidedly different ways. Priscilla, or Pris, seems to sit somewhat comfortably with her familial obligations of maintaining the family-owned store and dealing with the the soon to be gotten rid of family home. However, Mary Beth seems to be more biding her time until she can find a way to bid this town adieu. Life gets complicated, somewhat predictably, when Mary Beth ditches her mother's wake for a nearby watering hole and ends up escaping the ill-meaning clutches of Gorski (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) thanks to a, well, you'll just have to watch it for yourself.
It ain't pretty.
Arguably justified in her under the influence assault, Mary Beth is nonetheless not quite sure it was justified. Plus, hey, there's that whole matter of a dead body to deal with.
Blow the Man Down keeps getting more complicated, perhaps too complicated as there's more than a couple quirky characters whose entire presence seems to be more about that quirkiness than their actual necessity within the story. It's a joy to see quality actresses like June Squibb and Annette O'Toole here - it's just hard not to wish they were given more to do.
While it's likely true that Blow the Man Down is overly stuffed, somehow it also all feels very, very right. Not the least bit adept at things related to crime or the covering up of said crime, Priscilla and Mary Beth are a quirky, adorable sight to behold thanks to the frenzied, fun to watch performances by Lowe and Saylor. There's a fair amount of emotional resonance amidst all the furied humor, while feminist rage and the wisdom of sages is always bubbling underneath the surface of the film. That wisdom comes to life rather magnificent in the persona of Margo Martindale's outrageously awesome Enid, the owner of the local bed-and-breakfast that has more than a few of its own secrets held within its walls. Martindale proves, once again, that she's an actress who simply makes every film she appears in a better film and she's easily one of Hollywood's truly great character actresses. It's hard to say that Enid really needs to be here, but thanks to Martindale's scene-stealing, magnificent performance you can't imagine the film without her.
It's difficult to describe this wonderful little film created by Cole and Krudy without giving too much of the experience away, but suffice it to say that Blow the Man Down is an immersive and enveloping experience from sea shanties, yes actual sea shanties, to Todd Banhazi's loopy, unsettling lensing that is absolutely perfect from beginning to end. There's violence to be found here and it unfolds lightly, even humorously, yet there's undeniable underlying themes that you'll catch if you're actually paying attention. There's a sense of whimsy at times, yet it's whimsy with meaning and everything, no matter how random it all seems, has a purpose here and fits together quite nicely.
Shot on location in Maine and beautifully bringing the rather serene and mystical setting to life, Blow the Man Down often opts for a more generalized New Englander dialect rather than a more specific coastal Maine one but only the most nitpicky moviegoer (Hey, that's me!) will likely notice. Krudy and Cole were nominated for Best First Screenplay in this year's Independent Spirit Awards for Blow the Man Down and, indeed, it's rather amazing that they've managed to bring this quirky, honest, meaningful, and layered story to life in such an entertaining and memorable way. An Amazon Studios original film, Blow the Man Down arrives on Amazon this weekend, March 20th, and is a terrific viewing option for those who appreciate unique, inspired indie cinema and the utterly fantastic Margo Martindale.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic