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Vincent KartheiserVincent Karheiser - "Dandelion" Movie - Nytimes.com Review
By Stephen Holden
Tuesday 11 October 2005, by Webmaster
A Search for Human Connections in a West Where the Land Is Bleak and the Lives Are, Too
The desolate Western landscape through which the characters in Mark Milgard’s debut film, "Dandelion," wander in an introspective daze, defines their emotional life. The wind blowing through these wide open spaces all but swallows up their words.
In a movie filled with long, pensive silences as the camera slowly pans over the land and sky, the characters’ reluctance to speak borders on affectation. The cinematographer Tim Orr finds a bleak magnificence reminiscent of the cosmic melancholy evoked by Nestor Almendros’s camera in Terrence Malick’s "Days of Heaven." The teenage protagonist of "Dandelion," Mason Mullich (Vincent Kartheiser), is a milky-skinned John-Boy Walton type mired in hopelessness. The film’s opening scenes observe him alone in a field putting a gun into his mouth and rehearsing his suicide. A plaintive, muffled score by Robb Williamson, one of the screenwriters, suggests the softer, glummer side of Neil Young.
Mason lives with his grim parents, Luke (Arliss Howard), a grain-factory worker, and Layla (Mare Winningham), in a farmhouse in Washington State. A mood of cosmic boredom reigns. The few local teenagers have nothing to do on Saturday night but drink beer, take drugs and huddle in couples. Mason’s best friend, Eddie (Blake Heron), is dogged by a bullying older brother, Arlee (Shawn Reaves), a crystal-meth user who carries a gun and baits Mason whenever he sees him. Skip to next paragraph Readers Forum: Movies
Early in the film, Luke, who is running for county council, goes to pick up some campaign signs he ordered, finds his name misspelled (without the h), and is barely able to contain his rage. Layla forestalls an emotional meltdown by pacifying herself with vodka and pharmaceuticals.
One evening while driving home in a rainstorm after posting his campaign signs on the road, Luke accidentally hits and kills a lone pedestrian. Deciding not to report the death, he drags the body into a field and leaves it there covered with underbrush, then returns to find his car stuck in the mud. While helping his father free the vehicle, Mason discovers the body. Later, when the police call, Mason takes responsibility for the homicide. While the father keeps silent, the son is sentenced to two years in a juvenile correctional center.
By this time, a spot of color has wandered into Mason’s miserable life. The Vosses - a mother (Michelle Forbes) and her tough, teenage daughter, Danny (Taryn Manning) - have moved in nearby, and Mason and Danny strike up a friendship.
The movie leaps forward two years to the day Mason is released from detention. He picks up the friendship he and Danny had begun, and it quickly blossoms into an intense romance. Their bond is shadowed by Danny’s mother’s fanatical determination that her daughter avoid her fate and not end up a teenage single mother, and by Arlee, whom Danny dated while Mason was away.
The lovers’ dreamy rural idyll unfolds in a climate of dread. When the world ultimately closes in around them, the minimalist style of the film begins to work against it. So much care has been taken to build a mood of hushed suspense that the rushed, tragic conclusion, in which too little is shown and too little explained, leaves you deeply unsatisfied.
But for all its lapses of judgment, "Dandelion" is a promising filmmaking debut. If the director and his screenwriting collaborators, R. D. Murphy and Mr. Williamson, have perversely neglected to fill in some critical spaces, at least you never feel that they have compromised their vision.
Opens today in New York and Los Angeles.
Directed by Mark Milgard; written by Mr. Milgard, R. D. Murphy and Robb Williamson; director of photography, Tim Orr; edited by Amy E. Duddleston; music by Mr. Williamson; production designer, Judy Becker; produced by Molly M. Mayeux; released by International Film Circuit. In Manhattan at the Landmark’s Sunshine Cinema, 139-143 East Houston Street, East Village. Running time: 93 minutes. This film is not rated.
WITH: Vincent Kartheiser (Mason Mullich), Taryn Manning (Danny Voss), Mare Winningham (Layla Mullich), Arliss Howard (Luke Mullich), Michelle Forbes (Mrs. Voss), Blake Heron (Eddie), Shawn Reaves (Arlee) and Marshell Bell (Uncle Bobby).