Depression, life changes, our past, and our future. These are things the majority of people can relate with, usually cementing a solid foundation for any dramatic piece. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who couldn't personally relate in some way or another, lives are colorful, lives are grey. Filmmaker Haston McLaren has banked on these concepts - but doesn't go out of his way to push his narrative home. Instead relying on some great, if not quiet portrayals of his main characters. Oh, and one more thing. McLaren demands that his audience give their full attention. It's a bold move, one that depending on the viewer, could easily swing either way.
But why shouldn't he? As a filmmaker, why not demand complete focus? The beauty of independent cinema is the filmmakers' ability to tell a story how they want, to ask the viewer to take in their art the way they want it taken in? A ridiculous amount of time, energy, and heart goes into making any film; so why not expect some effort be put in from its audience? I'll attempt to answer that a little later but for now, a brief and spoiler free synopsis.
Harry and his wife are not in the best of places. Lately times have been quite difficult including a recent death, but even before that, since learning his wife Lisa was pregnant, things just haven't been the same. His drinking has increased, and his awkward, distant behavior is essentially making him a stranger. Lisa feels alone, left to her own devices more and more. In her own words, she feels unsupported, as Harry increasingly distances himself. The setup for a standard, cold footed drama right? Not quite. As you may have expected, communication with these two characters is strained, almost non-existent. This is solidified by having very little dialog between the two; making for a very realistic approach to this film, but again, requiring constant attention to push the story forward. With that written, let me also write that a lot can be said by actions and expressions - and this talented duo has no problem delivering - again, if you're paying attention.
The cinematography in this film really is great. It's also obvious that McLaren knows this. The visuals become kind of their own character, complete with a slight ego. By that, I mean "A Life In August" has a lot of establishing, scenic shots. Perhaps a little more than was needed. I would be willing to bet a good five minutes of these filler shots could have been removed, with no hit to the story. The same could be said regarding some of the edits, feeling a little awkward or unneeded. Truth be told? This film could probably have been done in under an hour. A lot of the scenes and edits are of walking, doing random stuff, or repeated actions in different locations. If I were to guess, I'd bet McLaren edited this movie himself or was heavily involved.
However, what I've written above are all small potatoes. Going back to the beauty of independent film, a filmmaker can piece together their vision any way they decide. I may think the movies a little long, but the reality is that McLaren, or any other viewer, could find it just right. My real concern is that the average Joe may not give "A Life In August" enough of their time to really appreciate the story and effort. As I've written a few times now, this film requires the audience to really watch and pay attention - and many viewers simply won't like that concept. For many, it's not their job to find the entertainment in a story. It's the filmmakers' job to enthrall the viewer. It's the filmmakers' job to grab the attention of their audience, not the other way around. The desire to demand a viewer's concentration to properly follow along, will leave many confused and in the dark. I personally believe that "A Life In August" will fare better in the long run, and has the potential to be one of those movies that gain more and more traction, as time passes by. Allowing true cinema buffs to find and appreciate this film, and spread the word along the way. Much the same as "The Shawshank Redemption" which was a box office failure when released.
In the end, "A Life In August" is a slower-paced film that not everyone will appreciate at first. The finer details will be lost to all but the most dedicated lovers of both film, and the genre itself. However, for those who do stick around, there's a real story here. A story that is not all roses and glitter, but a real yarn that accurately mirrors so many very real lives. Haston McLaren puts forth a visually beautiful film, that rewards your attention. Three and a half stars.