Run and Jump features a bit of semi-stunt casting that got me interested in the movie: the film features Saturday Night Live‘s Will Forte in a dramatic role. The role isn’t devoid of humor, however. Like Steve Carell in Little Miss Sunshine (but not clinically depressed), it’s a role that relies more on a straight performance rather than on Forte’s abilities as a comedian. He’s actually the source of levity in the film, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
Run and Jump then had me in the first few minutes because the Magnetic Fields song “The Sun Goes Down and the World Goes Dancing” plays over the opening credits. (Sometimes the way into my heart is something off 69 Love Songs.)
The movie continued with this surprising momentum of interest and endearment, and it helped that the story had the right tinge of joy and sadness to it. When Run and Jump is on, it’s tender and bittersweet. At its heart is a family coping with a debilitating stroke, and the way that emerging friendships turn into deep but complicated affections.
[For the next few weeks, Flixist will be covering the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, which runs April 17-28 in New York City. Check with us daily for reviews, interviews, features, and news from the festival. For all of our coverage, go here.]
Run and Jump
Director: Steph Green
Release Date: TBD
Sometimes the stories that I tend to gravitate toward the most are the ones that are sad but sort of funny, or funny but also sort of sad. It’s like pop songs about break-ups and loneliness — the bright moments seem brighter, the low points seem lower, and all because there are two parallel and accompanying emotions that play off each other or even braid together; two tones managed well, both contradictory yet complementary. It’s like Stephin Merritt’s sleepy voice on the poppiest of Magnetic Fields songs moaning about suicide.
For Run and Jump, the sad thread to the story has everything to do with Conor (Edward MacLiam). He’s suffered a stroke that’s left him a shell of his former self both mentally and physically. He becomes obsessed with bizarre tasks, like making wooden balls in his workshop, or creating a surrogate hand on a stick to touch things. His wife Vanetia (Maxine Peake) does her best to pull through the situation, but the fact is that Conor will never get better even though he’s alive. He’s like the walking dead in the house, without any love to spare for her or their two children. Instead, he just gaybashes his son and ignores his daughter.
And yet there’s the upbeat side of the film in the form of Forte’s character, Ted, a psychologist from the United States who’s come to document Conor’s behavior after the stroke. Forte begins his time in the house mostly behind his video camera, more of an outsider than an active participant in these lives. Obviously he’ll merge with the family at some point — again, the idea of separate things braiding — but the interest in these sorts of stories are the inevitable tangles to come and what’s to be made of them.
There’s a kind of odd magic in Peake and Forte’s performances, and there’s a great chemistry between them when they’re on screen together. Peake’s Vanetia is verging on a breakdown and she knows it, and more than Forte, it’s Peake’s humane performance that really carries this film with remarkable emotional fragility. Not only will she have to raise her children on her own, but she’ll need to look after Conor’s impossible needs as well. Ted offers friendship and a bit of levity, and also a sense of romance, something that Conor can’t provide.
There’s a moment in the film as their friendship is growing when she asks him to dance in the living room. He refuses but watches her hop around with a kind of teenage abandon. There’s actual exhilaration in the house rather than worry, and its as if Vanetia’s reliving a memory she shared with Conor that he can’t remember anymore but that she can recreate in the now. As she comes crashing down on the couch, breathing heavy, she looks at Ted with eyes that verge on longing — maybe 15 years ago, maybe if there wasn’t a table between, maybe in an alternate universe, this moment would have ended in snogging; tonight, in the house, with the reality of their situations, not so much.
Ted also begins to develop feelings for Vanetia and even for her children, who’ve started to take to him as surrogate dad. There’s a sense of home for an outsider, but there’s also a conflict of duties — other threads, this time obligation and passion, again that complementary and contradictory relationship. Ted’s there to do research, Vanetia’s got a family to raise, and most importantly, it’s not like Conor’s dead. He’s a sympathetic and yet frustrating complication to a developing romance. It’s also a love affair that both Ted and Vanetia know can’t happen and shouldn’t happen but might be sadly inevitable because love is funny that way.
These kinds of complicated personal interactions and the conflicting emotions associated with them really captivated me. Run and Jump feels lived in, if that makes sense, especially given how Conor’s glimmers of consciousness add an extra jab of pain to the present. There are flashbacks to the past and old photos as well, the sort of nostalgia that, if you had to experience it in real life, would cause a catch in the throat. The tragedy of living with the barely living is a force strong enough to make desperate acts of forced joy, like laugh yoga, seem like a good idea.
Run and Jump stumbles at bit in its last third. I think it has less to do with what happens with the plot or the character since the film’s finale feels exactly right, but it just sort of loses its way a little en route to the conclusion. Pregnant pauses and silences come to dominate scenes, with occasional moments of urgency that didn’t quite hit their mark for me even though the instinct was right.
And yet it makes sense for these characters who know that their time together is drawing to a close. In some ways, they were playing house and playing family, but playtime has to end for everyone. It’s awkward figuring out how to end this whole game that’ll make everyone happy, but at the very least playing it was a blast. These are the sorts of experiences that none of them will forget — things that will be more helpful during the dark hours than laugh yoga, almost as helpful as dancing with the people you love.
[For more info on Run and Jump, visit tribecafilm.com/festival.]