In New York City's Harlem circa 1987, an overweight, abused, illiterate teen who is pregnant with her second child is invited to enroll in an alternative school in hopes that her life can head in a new direction.
There is a lot to recommend Scott Teems "That Evening Sun", and I'm happy I was able to catch a recent screening as a premier event of the Tallahassee Film Festival. Kindly indulge my regional preference for literature and the performing arts, but you really can't beat the local color of the rural South. This melancholy narrative is driven by simmering grudges,ill-gotten gains, and combustible relationships. It's as though William Faulker and Flannery O'Connor collaborated on Teem's script with its southern Gothic allusions and ironic events.
Hal Holbrook as the title character, Abner Meecham, is brilliant with his tenacious attitude, and wizened expressions. He may be old, but he's still capable, resourceful, and completely self-absorbed. Dream sequences and memories allow us to see his softer side as he relives tender moments with his late wife (played by the bewitching Dixie Carter, his real-life wife). He receives little support from his son, a busy attorney well-played by Walton Goggins. Their mutual disaffection is palpable and practically Shakespearean. Abner is not easy to love.
Abner's primary nemesis, Lonzo Choat, is a surly ne'er-do-well who relies as much on his monthly disability check as he does on cheap beer. Ray McKinnon gets a lot of mileage out of Choat's brutal nature and proprietary relationships. His rustic wife (Carrie Preston) and daughter (Mia Wasikowska) each exhibit individual strengths, but can't overcome the overarching power of Lonzo Choat.
Barry Corbin also lends a powerful performance as Abner's long-time neighbor and fellow octogenarian, Thurl Chessor. Abner and Thurl have known each other long enough that conversation is perfunctory, but comfortable. Neither wastes words nor breath, they are comfortable passing time without much fuss or muss, but not too much time lest they seem too dependent, too feminine.
"That Evening Sun" is beautifully shot capturing the simple bucolic beauty of rural Tennessee as kudzu slowly reclaims abandoned barns, and landscapes buzz with the heat and activity of hidden hives and birdsong. The soundtrack is a nod to depression-era country crooners, and Jimmie Rodgers adds the ideal poetic punctuation with his yearning yodels. I will see this one again.
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