Five Nights in Maine (2015, Maris Curran)

So, it turns out sometimes you do actually need a story. No matter the locations, no matter the photography, the music, the actors, the editing, even the directing, sometimes you can’t get away with eighty minutes without some kind of narrative.

Five Nights in Maine is the story of newly widowed David Oyelowo. He becomes severely melancholic after his wife, Hani Furstenberg, dies in a car accident. Unfortunately, writer and director Curran putting Furstenberg in at the beginning ends up being utterly pointless, especially given the later flashbacks and reveals. The first sign the script’s not there.

Her estranged and dying mother, Dianne Wiest, calls and leaves an ominous voice mail telling Oyelowo to come to visit her in Maine; no need to call ahead. He lives in Atlanta. It’s a twenty-one-hour drive, and there’s no driving montage footage at night, so presumably, he stops somewhere at least once; we don’t see it because, despite being an ostensible character study of Oyelowo, Curran’s got no idea what’s going on with the guy.

The film sets up a bunch of pieces—Oyelowo’s been pressuring Furstenberg to get pregnant, Wiest didn’t like Oyelowo because he’s Black, her lily-white neighbors are at the least weird to him, something happened on Furstenberg’s last visit to Wiest, Oyelowo’s driving around with Furstenberg’s ashes. Now, if Curran set up that chess board and then inspected it, Five Nights wouldn’t have an epical arc, but it would have a purpose. Instead, Curran just sets things up and moves past them. Only two of the aforementioned items matter, and only during the end-of-second-act blow-out. It’s a shockingly thin film.

Curran’s able to imply a lot more depth thanks to Oyelowo. However, he works his ass for nothing. The camera spends most of the film inspecting him, and he’s always doing something relevant, but it adds up to nothing. Not even for his performance—when Oyelowo’s at the big payoff, Curran goes to long shot. It’s a not surprising miss. Because Curran wastes Wiest, there’s nothing she can do to disappoint.

Oyelowo spends, presumably, Five Nights staying with Wiest. The first four nights, she’s barely around. They probably have dinner together, but the only first and last times are important. We don’t even find out home healthcare worker Rosie Perez doesn’t spend the night until the third night. Maybe fourth night. The film doesn’t count them; it’s not worth the effort for the audience either.

Wiest goes from rude to mean to rude to meaner. She has a couple moments of levity, which the film doesn’t know what to do with; like, they seem accidentally okay, with Wiest getting to do some character development. There’s minimal character or character development in the film. Curran can’t be bothered.

Curran does appreciate her actors, however. She holds her shots forever, letting Oyelowo and Wiest act, react, emote, pout, all sorts of things. Sweat—Oyelowo has a very dangerous jog. Smoke. He starts smoking a lot the last night to gin up conflict. As the film winds down, Curran does what she can to jumpstart the act change, and it’s all desperate and all weird. The last night is entirely different from the other nights, but it’s supposedly all routine.

Though Wiest does have cancer, and she’s not getting better, and she’s maybe having mental health things going on. She doesn’t have a doctor in the movie, and Perez’s medical duties are opaque. Perez is there to talk to Oyelowo and make Wiest dinner.

However, since she doesn’t have a genuine part, Perez’s performance can’t come up short. She’s fine. It’s an extended cameo. Fine. Bill Raymond’s good in a scene, and Teyonah Parris’s good in a couple scenes. It’s unclear if Furstenberg’s any good—Curran’s unreliable when presenting her.

Good photography from Sofian El Fani, great editing from Ron Dulin. The Maine locations are lovely. The music appears not to be original; it’s solid. Manipulative but well-selected; Chris Robertson supervised. Unfortunately, the original song at the end, which uses lines of dialogue from the film as lyrics, is not good.

Five Nights in Paris seemed like an easy proposition, and Curran’s a fine technical director, but she did not have the story. At all. It’s a waste of everyone’s time: Oyelowo’s, Wiest’s, the audience’s, Curran’s.

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