I will confess that as the closing credits were rolling for Kevin Chenault's latest indie feature Different Drum, I found myself already searching around that vast empty space I call my brain looking for some sort of comparison.
I thought to myself "Different Drum" is the kind of film that Beck would make if Beck were to make a film rather than yet another collection of eclectic sad songs.
That kind of fits. Sort of.
Then, I went back to the thought that I had after watching Chenault's last film, Young Islands, and found myself thinking that maybe Chenault is carving out a niche' as the Heartland's Todd Solondz minus the incest.
Well, pretty much anyway.
Then, it dawned on me how much Different Drum reminded me of Alexander Payne's Nebraska. This does not, for the record, mean that co-leads Isabella DeVoy and Zach Zint remind me in any way of June Squibb and Bruce Dern.
But, they kinda do.
The truth is that Different Drum, not so coincidentally, marches to the beat of its own drum in telling the story of Lydia (DeVoy) and Tod (Zint), a former couple who find themselves sharing a journey from South Dakota to Indiana because, after all, funerals are always good for bringing people together even when they don't necessarily want to be.
Before Nebraska managed to find its way to the big screen, I'd have sworn that a small, intimate, quirky, and ultimately quite film would most likely never find its way onto a big screen and certainly not courtesy of a studio. So, I'm hesitant to celebrate the fact that Different Drum is just the kind of film that I love to see coming from the indie world - a character-driven intimate drama with touches of heart, ample doses of heartland quirk, and a patience to allow the characters to be exactly where they need to be rather than detouring them off into special-effects laden distractions or vulgarity just for the sake of vulgarity.
Everything in Different Drum has a purpose and everything in the film seems to advance the story along, though sometimes it's in the weirdest of ways.
Oh wait. I almost forgot. Jim Jarmusch. Yeah. Different Drum really made me think about Jim Jarmusch quite a bit.
God, I love Jim Jarmusch.
From hand-written transition signs indicating in what city Lydia and Tod have just arrived to the sort of muted tones that might make you feel like you're watching Different Drum from the Dust Bowl, Chenault has hand-crafted a film uses words sparingly in telling a story that seems to unfold more in the silence and the things left unspoken.
Oh wait. I thought of another one. 500 Days of Summer.
Really. I'm not kidding. Man, Zach Zint and Isabella DeVoy reminded me of that almost ridiculous chemistry that existed between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. That said, this film has an infinitely smaller budget and is really sort of a smalltown version of the whole thing, but somewhere between Bruce Dern and June Squibb and Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel is where this film really lives.
Or maybe I'm just crazy. It could be.
Regardless, both Zach Zint and Isabella DeVoy do top notch work here as the former couple who clearly understand each other even if their lives have clearly moved on. In fact, Lydia's is so moved on that she's pregnant and, refreshingly, it's not used as a gimmick in the film.
She's just pregnant, ya' know? People get pregnant
Actually, I guess that's kind of stupid. "People" don't get pregnant. Women get pregnant. Women who have sex get pregnant. Well, I suppose women who get artificially inseminated get pregnant, too.
But, I digress.
Zint and DeVoy have a comfortable and believable chemistry that is so rich and authentic that even the quirkier parts of their story don't feel that particularly quirky. You just have this overwhelming feeling that this is likely how they functioned when they were together, and they don't particularly feel the necessity to fake it before they make it to Indiana. There are small yet impressive touches, a toothbrush scene for example, that make you realize just how comfortable they are with each other even if it doesn't quite add up to relationship material.
The scenes unfold convincingly and there's not a detour at all when a third party, ably played by Joseph Dodd, joins them and adds just a hint of tension to the equation.
D.P. Eddy Scully's lensing is inventive and authentic in capturing the silent facial expressions, the body language, and the almost mundane aspects of every community that Lydia and Tod visit. While there were a couple times when the film's low-budget was evident, Chenault has crafted an intelligent, quietly sentimental, honest and downright enjoyable film that should easily find a place on the indie/microcinema fest circuit and will leave you satisfied long after the closing credits have rolled.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic