Cameron Bancroft, Edie McClurg, Bellamy Young, Aidan Mitchell, Amber Benson, Joshua Leonard
Andrew C. Erin
Andrew C. Erin, Peter Ferland
Stop reading this review for a moment.
Look around...What do you see?
Perhaps, you are looking around the room you are in at a pile of clothes to be washed, dishes to be cleared or carpet that desperately needs to be swept.
Perhaps, you are only momentarily able to distract yourself from the computer screen. You look around, but your eyes keep darting back to the screen. There is work to be done, after all.
With all the magic that surrounds you let me ask you this, "What do you REALLY see?"
Such a dilemma faces Dr. Evan Gibbs (Cameron Bancroft), a Chicago physician and recent widower, who finds himself heading off to a small North Carolina town for the summer with his 10-year-old son, Nate (Aidan Mitchell), to open a medical clinic and, simultaneously, help him land his dream job as Chief of Pediatrics at his Chicago hospital.
"Simple Things," written and directed by Andrew Erin, is a refreshingly simple, straightforward tale that trusts its material enough to not create unnecessary plot lines, irrelevant characters and distracting special effects that would do nothing but take away from its central themes of family, community and, well, the simple things in life.
When Evan arrives in town, he quickly gets off on the wrong foot with the town's mayor, Terry Hudson (played by the delightful Bellamy Young from last year's IC indie fave "Eve of Understanding"), waxes not so eloquent at a town meeting and seems to offend virtually anyone and everyone in the town with his condescending, big-city ways including his nurse, Maggie (Edie McClurg of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"), the frequently intoxicated handyman (Mickey Jones) and a host of other smalltown favorites.
While Evan is off on the wrong foot, Nate (Aidan Mitchell, in a promising feature film debut) is off on new adventures with the mayor's young daughter, Chris (Channing Nichols) and her buddy, Freddy (Zac Gardner of "Big Fish" and "Akeelah and the Bee").
I reckon that some folks are likely to fault "Simple Things" for its simple, down home filmmaking. There's just not a whole lot of fixins here, not really a need for a bunch of spices and, well, there ain't really no need for a ton of special effects when some good old-fashioned people, stories and sunshine will make do.
In fact, the film reminds me a lot of Tomkinsville, Kentucky. Tomkinsville, Kentucky is the small town where my father grew up in deep Southern Kentucky on the Tennessee line. In Tomkinsville, plumbing was a luxury, kids grew up goin' on adventures and women were strong because they had to be. Throughout the entire town, outsiders were looked on with a wary eye but, in the end, Southern hospitality would usually win out.
Less jaded than its predecessor, "Junebug," but also less wild-eyed and innocent than Wayne Wang's retro "Because of Winn-Dixie," "Simple Things" is a simple film about honest folks live and love and laugh just like everyone else but at a pace that is all their own and sometimes downright hard to understand.
"Simple Things" is one of the most genuinely heartwarming, moving films about smalltown life in America because it doesn't see these folks through a black and white lens..."Simple Things" isn't really about about the superiority OR inferiority of smalltown life...it's merely set in a small town. "Simple Things" isn't a film about town drunks, rednecks or city boys and, for sure, it's not a political statement about medicine or poverty or anything like else.
"Simple Things" is about the people in this small North Carolina mountain town and what happens when a big city doctor finds himself smack dab in the middle of them all.
Andrew Erin's script, co-written with Peter Ferland, doesn't so much show off these delightful characters as it does simply allow them the chance to share their lives with us.
We get to know Slyder (Mickey Jones), who at first appears to be nothing much beyond a stumbling drunk fumbling his way through life...we get to know Edgar, who at first sight you'd swear is going to be trouble for the good doctor...we get to know Sally (Amber Benson), a smalltown wife with a baby damn near on its way out who's working way too hard for a woman about to give birth...and we meet Daryl (Joshua Leonard, "Blair Witch Project"), a man we big city folks would swear must be abusing his wife the way she keeps goin' when we know for sure she ought to be slowin' down.
All of these folks make up the town of Dunn's Rock, North Carolina. They give it its charm and its quirks, its strengths and weaknesses and each of them, in their own special way, adds something special and unique to this humble little town.
The lessons here are simple, really. By the end of "Simple Things," the good Dr. Evan Gibbs isn't going to necessarily give up his big city dreams and run off the country...that would be too simple. Likewise, as much good as he's going to do in this town, not every storyline gets its happy ending.
Small town life isn't like that. Sometimes, when you look around you see tragedies and aches and pains just like everyone else does.
"Simple Things" gets it right. Andrew Erin wisely looks around his cinematic landscape and trusts what he sees. He allows the camera to linger for extra seconds on the trees rustling in the wind, the ponderings of Mayor Hudson reminiscing on the wonders of this small town and upon the hearts and imaginations of young children attempting to find the magic in everyday life in their small town.
What ultimately allows "Simple Things" to work, however, is the conviction of a cast that clearly buys into Erin's vision of of simplicity.
Bancroft is uncomfortably big-city early on in the film...uncomfortable to the point that I found myself squirming in my seat thinking "Man, this isn't working at all." Oh, wait. It's not supposed to...this is a big-city doctor in a small town just three months after the death of his young wife. This SHOULD be awkward and uncomfortable.
The same is true for the utterly wonderful Aidan Mitchell's Nate. As he fumbles his way through grief and insecurity, Mitchell evokes a young man desperately searching for something, anything to hold onto.
As Mayor Hudson, Bellamy Young ("We Were Soldiers" and "Eve of Understanding") gives "Simple Things" a delightful spark of innocence, wonder and humor. Whereas many actresses would have been inclined to give us stereotypical smalltown mayors or to have turned Mayor Hudson into a flirty, smalltown stereotype, Young offers an intelligent, insightful and sensitive portrayal far more authentically grounded in smalltown life.
The young couple I mentioned earlier, Sally and Daryl? Thanks to finely tuned performances from Amber Benson and Joshua Leonard, this young couple may very well give "Simple Things" its emotional core with simultaneously exhilarating and heartbreaking performances.
In supporting roles, McClurg is in fine form as the tenacious and tender Maggie, while the young Channing Nichols brings to mind the aforementioned "Because of Winn-Dixie's" AnnaSophia Robb with a fine, relaxed performance (Watch for Nichols in the highly anticipated "An American Crime" this summer).
As is true throughout the film, simplicity reigns and production design avoids the polish of "Because of Winn-Dixie," without losing any of smalltown North Carolina's beauty.
So, what do you see?
No, I mean it.
Stop reading this review again for a moment. We're almost done anyway.
What do you see? The laughter? The tears? The joys or the sorrows? The victories or the losses? Can you see the forest? The family? The friends? The folks you hardly know?
Simple things, really.
This is life.
- Richard Propes
The Independent Critic