Oscar winner Dianne Wiest and “Selma” star David Oleyowo clash ever-so-quietly around the edges of grief in the short and somber “Five Nights in Maine.”
The debut feature of writer-director Maris Curran aims for cryptic, and she gives us only little morsels of back story to cling to. But a fine cast almost compensates for that, with Wiest and Oleyowo exploring the guilt — earned or unearned — that follows a loved one’s early death.
Fiona (Israeli actress Hani Furstenberg) was Sherwin’s wife. We’ve met them playing, adorably, in bed. We’ve seen her go to the pool for exercise.
And then there’s the phone call — a fatal car crash. Sherwin (Oleyowo) collapses into mourning, followed by a sullen withdrawal from the world.
Fiona’s estranged mother has called. Sherwin’s sister tries to fend her off. But no, there’s no getting around it. He must pull himself together, pack Fiona’s ashes, leave Atlanta and visit the woman his wife’s last phone message said they needed to see “before it’s too late.”
Lucinda lives in the coastal woods in a farmhouse. She’s a tactless grump. She’s had cancer. She’s entitled.
“Was she drunk?” she wants to know of her daughter.
“No, she was a GOOD driver.”
“Not THAT day.”
Over his five days there, flashbacks and other hints detail the state of Sherwin and Fiona’s marriage, their karaoke courtship (“I Wanna Dance with Somebody”) and parenthood plans. But there was trouble.
That might explain why there’s just a little too much easy familiarity between Sherwin and Lucinda’s nurse, charmingly played by Rosie Perez with all of the shrill edges rubbed right off.
Sherwin bristles at the occasional brusque brushoff by Lucinda and starts to understand what drove the daughter away from both her and this isolated, provincial town where he’s plainly the only person of color.
Curran went to the trouble to set and shoot her film in Maine, but makes little use of the place, other than showing us a swimmin’ hole, and the sort of woods that hunters might enjoy but a city fellow, hearing gunshots, isn’t going to appreciate. A character even mentions a lighthouse they can see. Do we see it? No. They could’ve shot this in Georgia like everybody else these days.
The writer-director’s determination to not give up her clues readily and not push the pacing makes for a slow, unsatisfying 82 minutes. The friction never truly ignites into a blaze, and the dawdling way the story unfolds unwinds whatever tension might have arisen. “Five Nights” gives us only about two nights worth of movie, and far less to chew on than the stingy-with-story director would have us believe.
MPAA Rating: unrated, adult situations, profanity, alcohol consumption
Cast: David Oyelowo, Dianne Wiest, Rosie Perez, Hani Furstenberg
Credits: Written and directed by Maris Curran. A FilmRise release.
Running time: 1:22