One rabbit hole that the shift of movie reviewing to an online profession can send you down is Google letting you know what questions people are asking when they track down a film review.
The most common? “X, Y or Z movie ending explained.” Lots of movies confuse people, and if you’ve invested the time in watching it, by George SOMEbody better be able to explain it.
My reviews contain a lot of details so I get this a lot. No, they aren’t “spoilers” if you’re summarizing the overall plot, and give away as little as possible from the last half to two-thirds of a movie. So I no doubt have disappointed readers trying to track down clues to unraveling “Beneath the Leaves,” to mention one title that I’ve seen this tracking data on. A LOT of people were thrown by that one.
“She’s Missing” is another that’s going to frustrate viewers. It’s a vague, dreamy missing person thriller that doesn’t really belong in any of those genres. And its finale can be taken in Depeche Mode terms (“Your own…personal…JE-sus!”), as a control/power trip exercise or something more hallucinatory and existential.
Beats me. And I’ve been doing this since LAST LA Olympics.
Willowy Lucy Fry from TV’s “Godfather of Harlem” and “11.22.63” miniseries dresses down as Heidi, a truck stop waitress in the middle of nowhere in the desert Southwest. Heidi’s a shrinking violet in the presence of her best friend, the vivacious and outspoken Jane (Eiza González of last summer’s “Hobbes & Shaw”).
“Heidi’s a YES girl,” Jane teases.
Heidi has settled here for reasons unknown. Jane sure as hell doesn’t get why ANYbody would want to live there. She’s got plans — small plans — to get out.
“I’m gonna be rodeo queen! I’m gonna marry Taylor…get a big house…travel the world!”
Jane proceeds to do almost exactly what her determined little heart desires. She gets into the pageant, where her speech has fire to it. “Who thinks they were born for MORE than this?”
She closes the deal with Taylor, because he’s enlisted and is about to deploy. We join Heidi at their wedding as she and we pick up on Jane’s mercenary side. Him saying “It’s YOU I’m going to be fighting for” isn’t anything she takes seriously. Jane has base housing and that’s what matters to her. She even brushes off Heidi.
Heidi is challenged by the same false duality on several occasions, the “two types of people in this world” trope.
And then, as the movie’s title implies, Jane goes missing.
Heidi’s odyssey in search of a missing person has a languid quality which tells us this hunt isn’t really what writer-director Alexandra McGuiness is interested in making her movie about.
Heidi’s personal journey begins as that “yes girl” who backed into a “relationship” with an older man (Christian Camargo) who was/is married and is VERY touchy about what he does for the Immigration and Naturalization Service (“You set up those camps? Why do you DO that job?”).
She’s concerned about Jane because she’s had encounters with people looking for missing daughters. There’s even a billboard for some missing “some rich girl” right next to the truck stop where she works.
She can’t get anybody else interested or alarmed, not even Jane’s estranged mother, who calls her own flesh and blood a manipulative “little switch” and dismisses Heidi’s concerns.
There are just enough clues, or at least introductions, to push us towards what really happened here; the odd crowd Jane was mixed up with (Sheila Vand, Josh Harnett), the last places she was seen, drugs, other missing women.
But the payoff that Irish writer-director McGuinness (“Lotus Eaters”) gets around to — eventually — is hazy, cheesy and frustratingly abrupt. She has no idea how to resolve all this, so she has everybody pontificating, theorizing and psychoanalyzing.
Still, the leads are compelling and the emptiness of the milieu tells its own story of frustrating isolation and thwarted dreams and ambitions.
McGuiness, the daughter of U-2 impressario Paul McGuiness, got Irish Film Board money to make this, and that was money flushed down an Irish drain. Whatever she was getting at, she doesn’t really get at it.
And if you’re here looking to unravel “What this was all about,” I feel your pain.
MPAA Rating: unrated, with substance abuse and sexual content
Cast: Lucy Fry, Eiza González, Christian Camargo and Josh Hartnett
Credits: Written and directed by Alexandra McGuinness. A Vertical release.
Running time: 1:40