US | 2018 | Directed Carol Brandt
Logline: A young woman, trying to cope with her sick mother and her own fragility, finds herself on a weekend camping trip with her recent ex-boyfriend.
Call me hipster, I don’t care, but I love a dysfunctional indie romance. My darling is Evan Glodell’s Bellflower from 2011, a benchmark in terms of capturing the listlessness of summer, the fresh scent of desire, the sour odour of heartbreak, but especially those moments between the moments, the elusive awkward poignancy that so many filmmakers strive and fail to harness.
For her third feature young director Carol Brandt has fashioned a beautifully understated observation on the search for closure and acceptance that charms effortlessly with wonderful performances from her two leads, Meredith Johnston as Leigh, and Rene Cruz as Cam. The screenplay is by Johnston, autobiographical perhaps, but either way it resonates with an authenticity that gives the movie a truly endearing edge. The kind of sideways glance you get from someone who’s caught your eye. You’ve had a taste of something, and you want more and more.
Leigh has been forced to drop out of grad school and has been living at home nursing her sick, bedbound mother. Her life has been put on the backburner. A girlfriend, Dre (Chelsea Norment), offers temporary time out, via a house party, and Leigh returns the favour by inviting her on a camping trip, a break her mother is insisting she take. But Dre pulls out, and when Leigh inadvertently finds herself in the company of her neighbour and ex-boyfriend Cam she knee-jerk extends an invitation for Cam to fill the space.
Most of Pet Names takes place on the camping ground, just out of town, as Leigh and Cam navigate each other. There isn’t tension, only unresolved issues, old wounds. Cam, with his huge Anglo-Afro, and his pet pug Chato, is happy to spend time with Leigh, as they both share a similar sense of humour and quiet sense of adventure, but Leigh is wary of Cam. Leigh’s girlfriend slipped her some Burning Man leftover fungi, so there’s that to be had, along with a few bottles of whisky, and some of Cam’s pot. There’ll probably be tears before dawn.
Like Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank, American Honey) Brandt shoots in 4:3 (standard) aspect ratio, shoots quickly, is adept at capturing the beauty of available light, and also favours a naturalistic style of performance that does wonders for subtlety of character. Pet Names – yes, they do reveal them – is a terrific vehicle for Meredith Johnston, and will certainly be the feature that gives Brandt the exposure and acclaim she deserves.
Pet Names isn’t as experimental or as dark and unpredictable as Bellflower, but there is something akin in its language, its wanderings, its sense of the absurd, its melancholy, its yearning. It rewards in similar ways. Definitely one of my favourite movies of the year.
Pet Names screens as part of the Revelation – Perth International Film Festival, Wednesday 11 July, 2.45pm (Luna), Friday 13 July, 12pm (Luna), Saturday 14 July, 9.15pm (Luna), and Monday 16 July, 8.30pm (Six).
For more information please visit the festival site here.