“Abundant Acreage Available” is an intimate, warm and slightly screwball dramedy about country people old enough to fret over where they’ll be buried, and what constitutes “our land.”
It’s an indie film that reminds us of a world of actors Hollywood rarely uses playing characters who never turn up in mainstream films. And it’s set in a tiny corner of a vast country that the film industry is generally loathe to explore — the home stomping grounds of playwright, writer/director Angus MacLachlan (“Junebug,” “Goodbye to All That”) — central North Carolina.
We meet siblings Tracy (Amy Ryan) and Jesse (Terry Kinney) as she’s burying their dad. His remains are in a cardboard box and the perfect place to put him, she figures, is in the middle of their farm, amidst the stubble of last-year’s corn crop.
Under the bare trees of winter, they shiver a bit and bicker a lot.
“I think, uh…”
“I don’t care WHAT you think! This is his place, here with us, with his two kids for eternity!”
Jesse is a religious man, a Southern “type” — a “Big Mistake Christian.” Some disaster in his past made him reach for the lifeline and comfort that the Bible and church offered. He wants to “say some words,” but she isn’t having it. He declares he’s going to move the ashes to an old graveyard on the property. Even though those buried there aren’t from their family, it’s still “consecrated ground.” This just irks her further.
They don’t weep as they doggedly pack up their father’s few late-life possessions — a hospital bed, wheelchair, walker and medications.
And then one morning they wake up to the sight of a tent with three old men snoring in it on their 50 acres. Jesse is puzzled. Tracy just grabs a shotgun to punctuate her lecture about trespassing.
But Hans, Charles and Tom grew up on this farm, long ago. Their parents sold it to Jesse and Tracy’s dad. Now, Tom (Francis Guinan) uses a cane and has the unfiltered filthy mouth of a stroke victim, Hans (Max Gail) has a serene kindness that calms troubled waters. Charles (Steve Coulter) is the practical one, not wanting to impose, just wanting to get the car they drove up from Orlando fixed so they can leave now that they’ve seen the farm and the wooden, weathered 19th century farmhouse.
Tracy is alternately irritated and wary. But Jesse tends to see things as signs.
“God’s looking out for us, sending them here.”
And before you know it, he’s walking all over Tracy’s wishes, making plans to sell or give away either part of the farm or the whole thing to atone for some sin neither of them had anything to do with.
“Acreage” is a movie of little grace notes about the permanence of land, the impermanence of people, things and everything else.
“It’s all temporary,” Hans philosophizes. Finding an arrowhead in the dirt, hearing about this illness or that, remarking on flocks of starlings (an invasive bird species) or staring at the stars just underlines that.
Stage, TV and big screen veteran Kinney gives Jesse a weariness about life and the emotional rawness of a lost soul deep into the faith that is all that lets his life make sense.
Ryan gives Tracy a mercurial bite — veering from the obligations of “Southern hospitality” and the pent-up resentment of a woman who gave her life to caring for the dead father and a foolishly impulsive brother, coupled with an innate mistrust of city strangers.
There’s rarely a false note in the performances, even if much of what happens feels abrupt and part of someone’s (the writer/director’s, not the Almighty’s) plan. Characters, not just the stroke victim, tend to blurt out plans and “fantastic ideas” that leave Tracy — the sanest one here — dumbfounded.
The characters are homespun and vividly real even if the story unfolds in comfortable, easygoing melodramatic flourishes involving family legacies, dead fathers and land — Sam Shepard without the edge. Down to Earth folks in rural America talk about mortality differently than city people, and there isn’t a line of dialogue on that subject that doesn’t ring true.
But what’s most striking is the film’s palpable sense of place, the wintry scenes of people walking land that has, between them, formed generations of both families. I know a little something about that part of the world. Visit the Wikipedia page for East Bend for proof. “Acreage” is so embedded in that earth you can taste it, smell the tobacco, cedar and slowly rotting corn stalks on those gently sloping hills.
And that firms up the characters and their connection to that land, making the film’s thesis, that there’s a genetic bond — at least in the South or to people who come from farming stock — to the place where they came from and the place that, at the end of life, calls them home.
MPAA Rating: unrated, profanity, smoking
Cast: Amy Ryan, Terry Kinney, Max Gail, Steve Coulter, Francis Guinan
Credits: Written and directed by Angus MacLachlan. A Gravitas Ventures release.
Running time: 1:20