“The Pilgrim” is a serene, scenic and soul-searching indie drama that goes adrift as it charts an over-familiar course.
It’s about a workaholic manager at a London construction firm summoned home to the Great Plains after his mother dies. He will come to terms with his relationship with her, his sister and the beautiful topography of South Dakota and Wyoming he left behind.
Jeff Worden is “Will” in London, a guy juggling workers, clients and architects in a job that rides him day and night. Even his live-in London girlfriend (Lou Llobel) takes a back seat to his ever-ringing cell, even on holiday.
“I can’t NOT take calls!”
One call he wishes he’d dodged was from sister Jeannie, telling “Billy,” as she’s always known him, that their mother died. Girlfriend Claire sees his ordained priorities clearly even if he does not.
There’s nothing for it but to fly “home,” to the small ranch his mother owned and to the bitchy divorced rancher sister (Rebekah Stein) who isn’t inclined to cut the guy who got away (from Nebraska, I think) any slack.
“When’s the service?” he wants to know. “We already had it.”
They clash, she shoves the old coffee can with “what’s left of her” in it into his hands, and he Jeeps off to Wyoming, where his estranged mother grew up, to the family homestead where Aunt Kay (Julie Oliver-Touchstone) presides because their mother wanted her ashes scattered where the buffalo roam.
Director/co-writer Joshua Benson makes his debut feature a “Nomadland” postcard of the prairie, the northern plains and Wyoming hill country. But he’s not very good at finding novel or particularly compelling things for our “Look Homeward, Angel” wanderer to do.
Will stops off at a small town (South Dakota, I think) rodeo as Aaron Copland’s classical music warhorse “Rodeo” plays on the soundtrack, soul-searches in a rustic, clapboard roadside church, gets hit on by the hottest cowgirl in a honky tonk and picks up a working class hitchhiker on her way to an open pit mine just to be “helpful.”
The settings embed us in a sense of place, be it London or South Dakota sh–kicker country. The dialogue is sparse and spare, but the trauma that separated mother from son is as trite, tried and true as that enthusiastic blonde honky tonk angel (Emerald Clark) or the solemn, sober and thoroughly adult hitchhiker (Rachel Colwell).
The finale offers no real surprise and bears the hallmarks of “outsider” thinking.
Grace notes aside, it’s funny how often green, big city filmmakers (Benson’s a Brandeis alum who attended a London film school) romanticize the tug of rural values/virtues cliche, ignoring the reality that runs up against this weary narrative trap. People leave for a lot of good reasons.
Rating: unrated, sexual situations, profanity
Cast: Jeff Worden, Lou Llobel, Rebekah Stein, Rachel Colwell and Julie Oliver-Touchstone.
Credits: Scripted and directed by Joshua Benson. A Freestyle release.
Running time: 1:34