Jeremy Clark, Holly Lynn Ellis, and Garth Blomberg
Dustin Bias, Ashley Martin Bias, Holly Lynn Ellis
A quirky and darkly comical debut feature from Co-writer and director Dustin Bias, Prairie Love premiered as part of the Sundance Film Festival's NEXT Competition and will be playing Indianapolis in mid-July as an official selection of the Indianapolis International Film Festival.
With its quirky sensibilities and off-kilter characterizations and narrative, Prairie Love is the kind of film that tends to be popular in indie film festivals while seldom attracting a wider audience and certainly with no hopes at all of a wider theatrical release. While not quite a "love it or hate it" film, I for one neither loved it nor hated it, Prairie Love is so committed in its unique vocal and visual stylings that even festival audiences are likely to exit the theater either proclaiming its virtues or its vices.
The Vagrant (Jeremy Clark) is driving a beat-up station wagon across North Dakota's frozen roads when he chances upon a broken down pick-up truck and its owner unconscious in the middle of the road. He loads up the unconscious stranger, keeping himself company by listening to dating self-help tapes until NoDak, the stranger, regains consciousness and shares his story of being on his way to pick up his soon to be released from prison girlfriend (Holly Lynn Ellis) whom he's never actually met.
Push comes to shove and NoDak gets a wee bit nervous about his slightly off mobile host and flees the vehicle, eventually going unconscious again. This time, The Vagrant leaves him be and takes him back to his broken down pick-up. Assuming his identity, the desperate to be loved Vagrant heads off to pick up his new girlfriend.
This doesn't quite all go as planned. Is that a surprise?
Prairie Love has an abstract nature to it that at times feels like a Gus Van Sant film, with the audience left to fill in the gaps in character development, story and purpose. This is not a weakness, by any means, but given the average Hollywood release's tendency towards paint-by-number film construction it should be interesting to see if the film can attract enough of a fan base to acquire a distribution deal for a limited nationwide release or, minimally, a home video release. The film's ensemble cast perform admirably, clearly in line with what Bias envisions for the film. It would be difficult to call out any single performance here, with each performance necessarily depending upon the other so intensely.
Lawrence Schweich expertly lenses the film with often broad landscape shots woven together with almost uncomfortably close shots of the film's characters. Ted Speaker's original music nicely complements the film's darkly comical tones, often times as abstractly as the dialogue itself.
Prairie Love is an acquired taste, in all honesty a taste this critic didn't quite acquire, but if you can watch the trailer and think to yourself "This looks great" then this may very well be the right film for you. There aren't enough unique voices in indie cinema, with far too many films these days doing a paint-by-number human melodrama, so even if this film doesn't quite resonate with you it's hard not to admire Bias's incredibly unique vision and directorial promise.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic