Female Filmmaker Friday: Small, Beautifully Moving Parts, 2011 (dir. Annie Howell, Lisa Robinson)
This is a small, beautiful film I watched on Netflix a few months ago that really surprised in how simple, yet effective it was in its storytelling. It’s the only feature film from writer/directors Annie Howell and Lisa Robinson, which is a shame. It stars Anna Margaret Hollyman, who is known for starring in micro-budget films (The Color Wheel, White Reindeer). This is actually the first of her films I have seen, but I really enjoy her screen presence.
The film is a standard roadtrip/journey film, but also includes documentary-esque scenes where the main character interviews random people about technology, and later in the film, motherdom.
Sarah Sparks (Anna Margaret Hollyman) lives in New York City with her boyfriend and is fascinated by technology. She helps people fix their phones, computers, etc. because she’s always been a bit of a tinkerer. She also films strangers as she asks them about their relationship with technology.
When Sarah finds out she is pregnant, mostly her thoughts are about how intricate the technology is in home pregnancy tests. Her boyfriend is ecstatic about the pregnancy, but due to some rift with her own family (which we will find out later), she is less than enthused about the coming baby.
She agrees to visit her sister Emily (Sarah Rafferty) in California for the baby shower because her sister knows moms and Sarah doesn’t really even have any friends (already a red-flag for how messed up Sarah is). This baby shower does not end well. Before it even starts, we start to find out a little bit more about Sarah and Emily’s family: there’s clearly something up with their relationship with their mother. After freaking out at the baby shower and then being “comforted” with a gift wherein you paste in things about your mother, yourself and then your baby, Sarah says she doesn’t have a mother. The meaning of this statement takes up the rest of the movie.
Sarah visits her father (Richard Hoag), who is retired and is now having a relationship over the internet with a woman whose language he doesn’t really speak. This is the only part of the movie that doesn’t quite feel right to me, but that might just be because I am so well-versed in the internet that it’s hard for me to believe anyone could be as bumbling with it as her father. I like this inclusion, though, because it fits in with the teen movie trope of daughters getting advice from their fathers.
Sarah decides to look for her mother who she thinks is living in the Redwood forest, only to discover she’s moved to the middle of a desert. When she gets off course, she has to make a detour to Las Vegas, where she stays with her boyfriend’s sister Towie (Susan Kelechi Watson), who happens to be in town taking a message therapy course. Their scenes together are great because they show how often times in-laws would not choose to be friends, but have to make the effort and how awkward the outcome of that can be.
There’s a great interlude where Sarah visits the Grand Canyon and takes a bunch of photos for tourists, but never lets anyone take her photo. She’s pregnant, but she hasn’t yet attached to her child, nor has she warmed up to the thought of having a child, thus preserving memories before the child is even born is not something she is interested in. We find out her mother abandoned her and her sister when they were young, thus the strife, and now Sarah is afraid her coldness towards her pregnancy is a sign that she will be just like her mother.
When she finally reaches her mother, it does not go well. It’s hours after she makes it to the refuge where her mother is staying before she even gets to sit down and talk with her. I wanted to include this screencap because I love how plain Anna Margaret Hollyman is; she truly looks like the girl next door. It’s refreshing.
Sarah’s mother Marjorie (Mary Beth Peil) is one of those disaster people who are always trying to improve themselves, but never manage to actually like themselves. In the scene where she explains why she left, she also tells Sarah the strongest memory she has of her as a child, to which Sarah replies “That doesn’t sound like me.” It’s great because it shows both how memories are unique to each individual even if the moment was experienced by someone else, but also underscores the film’s theme about how little we know ourselves. The directors don’t villainize Marjorie, they just present her as someone who should not have been a mother, someone who is not selfless enough to be a mother and someone who knew enough to know that her daughters would be better off without her. It does make you wonder if she had stayed throughout Sarah and Emily’s childhood, what kind of trauma she would have put them through? My bet is, they would still resent her, just for something different.
Just as Sarah finally decides to leave, she’s greeted by her boyfriend Leon, who got worried when he couldn’t reach her (her phone died), and called her father to find out where she was. She also discovers that while she’s been gone, he’s been reading book after book after book about pregnancy and child-rearing. In this moment, Sarah realizes it is Leon who is the rock in her life and all this time she was trying to find some answers, all she really needed was to go home.
When visiting Towie, she was given this drawing of her “parallel being”, which is a lizard with a lightbulb head. I’ll let you figure that one out as you watch the film.
During the credits, we see shots of Sarah and Leon and their baby and we realize that all is going to be well for these two crazy kids.
Posted on October 24, 2014, in Female Filmmaker Friday and tagged 2011, André Holland, Anna Margaret Hollyman, Annie Howell, Lisa Robinson, Mary Beth Peil, Richard Hoag, Sarah Rafferty, Small Beautifully Moving Parts, Susan Kelechi Watson. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.