Movie Review: In Our Nature
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
“In our Nature” writer-director Brian Savelson got his start in the theater, which helps explain why his directorial debut is driven by sections of lengthy dialogue. But it is a very slow drive.
The movie feels comfortable in its glacial pace, in part thanks to performances that breathe and unfold naturally. But the characters in this family drama are not given enough backstory or nuance to make their problems feel real, and none of the characters warrants much interest or compassion.
Seth (Zach Gilford of “Friday Night Lights”) and his live-in girlfriend, Andie (Jena Malone), want to get out of New York City for the weekend, so they jump in their Subaru, complete with Obama bumper sticker, and head to Seth’s family’s home in upstate New York. They want to get out to “nature,” a double entendre that will reveal itself in the coming father-son battle.
On the ride, Andie takes a phone call from her brother regarding the health of their mother. She is not well, and Andie feels guilty for not being able to be of better assistance. We never come to know the nature of the illness, and repeated furtive phone calls and text messages throughout the weekend hint at possible adultery. While it’s nice that Savelson does not hit us over the head with exposition that would be unnecessary between these two characters, the lack of details saps Andie’s mother’s condition of any direness.
After arriving at the bucolic lake house, the young lovers begin their weekend in earnest with some impromptu sex on the floor. But it becomes a case of coitus interruptus when Seth’s stodgy, silver-haired father, Gil (John Slattery of ‘Mad Men’), appears with his young, beautiful girlfriend Vicky (Gabrielle Union).
Seth and Gil have a seriously strained relationship. Neither is familiar with the other’s romantic interest, and Gil doesn’t even know that his son is a chef or a vegetarian, a fact for which the son receives much chiding. But the title “chef” may be a stretch. The bearded Seth is a bounce-around kind of Brooklyn bohemian who dabbles in music, food and sound engineering. His father, meanwhile, is an anal and somewhat angry Manhattan attorney with an eye for detail and little room for empathy. The fact that their entanglements never veer into the political spectrum hinted at with the bumper sticker in the early scene is rather shocking for a film full of telegraphed stereotypes.
Both men offer to immediately leave the house and return to NYC, but the exact tension between the two remains vague. The two girlfriends are soon frustrated by the stubbornness of the contrasting and incredibly grumpy men. The history of the father-son grievance is slowly revealed in conversations between the characters as they move around the property in the plodding chamber piece: here Seth and Vicky in a treehouse, there Andie and Gil on the stoop sharing a joint and some personal history. In another scene, all four sit rigidly around an awkward dinner table.
The exchanges simmer and insinuate with sexual subtext between son and would-be stepmom and father and would-be daughter-in-law. But the tension is mostly a misdirect that slows any movement toward clarity or resolution and distracts from the main story.
What we do learn is that Gil was a neglectful father who cared more about opera and his law practice than his son. Slattery is great as the churlish and charming father who can’t wrap his head around why his son spends so much energy on resentment and so little on getting on with his life. Gilford, as he proved in episodes of “FNL” when his girlfriend Julie got cross with him, can play mopey very well, but you just want to shake some sense into Seth. Dad wasn’t around enough? Cry me a river. Some people have real problems, kid. The movie does a good job of showing each man through the other’s eyes, but in the end they both seem pitiful in different ways.
The female characters here earn some measure of sympathy, as they have to be the mature ones who try and get their men to take some accountability and bury the hatchet. Their vicissitudes are a bit jarring, however. One minute they adore and comfort their men, the next they are ready to throw in the towel. Maybe the point is that men, by their nature, can act like grown-up boys regardless of their age.
“In Our Nature” intends to play as a slow boil, but the vagaries of the father-and-son quarrel don’t compel you to care about the eventual fallout. There are some interesting ideas about the psychological influence of childhood and the difficulty of being both parent and child, but the film lacks vitality. It does, however, show some maturity and realism by not forcing a clean conclusion, mirroring the attendant messiness of real-world relationships.