There was considerable publicity over Baraboo as it premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. The Festival's Artistic Director, Hannah McGill included it in her advance picks, saying she was very excited about the film. And with every reason, it would seem. The director, Mary Sweeney, is the long time editor and producer for David Lynch, and won a BAFTA for her work on Mulholland Drive. The film follows several people living in a typical Midwestern town motel and how they interact.
Speaking of the small town life, on which the movie is based, director Mary Sweeney says, "I love the immediacy and the intimacy and the directness of that kind of human contact." Certainly Baraboo has a warmth and a charm. Most of the actors are local. It unfolds very naturally like a gentle painting on a summer's day. Some of the additional music in Baraboo is by legendary guitarist Richard Thompson and fits very well. Think Lynch's Straight Story. A movie Lynch got away with through sheer quirkiness.
Baraboo is beautiful to look at but without being quirky. Gently meditative. About real people and things unspoken. A single mother struggles to raise her adolescent son the best way she knows how. When an elderly neighbour moves in to the motel, we see the old dog has a few more tricks of human nature up her sleeve than we might expect. She soon has the wayward youth under her spell.
There are no big surprises in Baraboo. We watch the various lives unfold. We watch the stunning photography. We enjoy the heart-warming effect of a guileless movie with no sudden and unnatural plot developments. But before you think Baraboo is Dogme95 revisiting the Midwest, we need maybe to ask why it is a feature film. There are no great revelations of character. Nothing to get very worked up about. And although it is beautiful to look at, it goes on doing that for an hour and a half without the jaw-dropping charisma of the Straight Story. And when it does have a forced plot device (death and bereavement) it feels like something added to pep things up rather than a natural event. Baraboo is so warm and cosy that I could probably have comfortably dozed off otherwise. This is not a bad film far from it. Just that the word that most comes mind is, "nice." On the one hand, Baraboo does indeed confirm Mary Stewart as a talent of the future. But it is also too reminiscent of Straight Story in style. Without the tractor. And without much of a story either.
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