Like so many other underrated actresses, Amy Ryan is always good in whatever she’s in. She’s also so versatile when she’s on screen, able to excel in oddball comedy as well as subtle character dramas. In Angus MacLachlan’s Abundant Acreage Available, Ryan’s performance is the center of the film. Her character, Tracy, is forced to react to the wills of four men–five if you include the dead father she buries in a field in the opening scene.
There’s her brother Jesse (Terry Kinney) who’s love of the Lord means he resorts to prayer for answers and the answers he provides are never wrong. There are three older men (Max Gail, Francis Guinan, and Steve Coulter) who start camping on their farmland as well, whose motives she finds suspect from the beginning. Yet she’s forced to put on a bit of blue collar hospitality given the way she was raised.
The set up plays out like a passive aggressive home invasion, or conversely a polite attempt to deter the barbarians storming the gates of a North Carolina farm. That sounds great, but then there’s the follow through.
Abundant Acreage Available
Director: Angus MacLachlan
Release Date: TBD
Tracy’s dilemma–the whole drama of Abundant Acreage Available–is obligation. She feels obligated to these different men in such a way that she feels her own needs have to be set aside. Nevermind that the three interlopers on the land are basically trespassers trying to take the farm away. They could be con men, for all Tracy and Jesse know, but Tracy tolerates their presence on account of her upbringing. She even puts up with her brother’s righteous belief that God is sending him signs of what’s right to do to make things right. Rather than explode or assert herself, Tracy’s dissatisfaction is expressed in small gestures and facial expressions.
This is fine for a bit, but Tracy is denied agency throughout the film. She reacts more than she acts, which might not necessarily be bad, but Abundant Acreage Available is so one-note and one-mode as a story, and it always felt like Tracy was too passive in spite of all the duress she’s facing. It doesn’t help that the visuals are so flat and muted. The competing interests of a woman trying to appease these men doesn’t go anywhere with lasting weight, and the film’s story unfolds with a sense of passiveness and obviousness. It’s as if MacLachlan’s screenplay was obligated to go from A to B to C and, like Tracy, simply and begrudgingly assents.
At least the performances are strong in a pretty standard, inert story. Kinney is great as an infuriatingly gullible but cocksure brother. Of the three invaders, Gail is the standout, equal parts folksy charm and sinister motives. Ryan’s great as always, and it made me wish the material was half as good as her performance. For all its nods to subtle changes and restrained grief, and for all the work the actors do to elevate the material, it felt like there was just not enough in the film to move me like I sensed it wanted to move me.