It is frustrating whenever a film is given a careless, haphazard release on DVD. It is all the more pronounced when the one in question is unheralded, small, and deserving of much better. Films such as James Ryan's the Young Girl and the Monsoon are already at a distinct disadvantage right out of the gate, and a solid DVD release can afford the film a valuable second life. Regrettably, Vanguard's release is so utterly poor that I was tempted to bestow a "Skip It" rating and be done with it. However, my admiration for the film – and general support for smaller, well intentioned films actually about something – is such that I chose to give it the most carefully guarded "Rent It" I could muster.
Essentially a chamber piece concerning the emotional woes of well-to-do Manhattanites (are economically and professionally successful New Yorkers ever happy on the stage or screen?), Monsoon is primarily concerned with the tricky relationship between Hank (Terry Kinney), an accomplished photojournalist, and his daughter, the volcanically insecure Constance (Ellen Muth). Both have been reeling since Hank's divorce, and his well-guarded world is invaded by Constance's defiantly open one upon his ex-wife's remarriage and honeymoon. Adapted from Ryan's own play, Monsoon still feels like a work of the stage in its dialogue and ribbon-tying structure. However, his direction is appropriately low-key and respectful to his script, and Ben Wolf's warm, colorful cinematography provides a pleasant polish to the proceedings. The result is an amiable – and at times uneven – mixture of drama and comedy imbued with knowing, gentle wisdom.
Hank is suffering from a mid-life crisis that is all encompassing and, frankly, a bit familiar in the cinema of affluent New Yorkers. Unsatisfied with his work and believing himself undeserving of his success, he mopes in the face of ample support from Giovanna (Diane Venora), an ex-lover and now frazzled boss. He also expresses his unwillingness to commit to his supportive, younger model girlfriend of over a year, Erin (Mili Avital), a self-confident woman who wants to have a child. Boxed in his self-appointed corner, he is also hesitant to share his experiences (both during and after his marriage) with his daughter, who is now desperate to understand what transpired in her parents' marriage and what makes her father tick.
Constance is also troubled (noted by her binge eating and her at times deliberately provocative clothing), and the fact that she is riding that peculiar emotional wave bridging adolescence with young adulthood does not help matters with the orderly and subdued Hank. Longing desperately to be treated as an adult, yet still clinging to the helplessness and insouciance that often characterizes lack of emotional sophistication, Constance is nothing short of a mess. Whether immaturely insisting to be carried from a restaurant or brazenly (and cannily) challenging her father's "wisdom" and advice, her struggle is given a much more plausible and recognizable treatment than standard teen fare.
Although the acting is solid across the board, special kudos must be given to Kinney and Muth. Their exchanges are terse, tender, and thoroughly convincing. Characters such as these can just as easily be employed for purposes of parody and satire, but Ryan's humanism and observational skill elevate them from some of the more precious confines of his material. (When a successful, $10,000.00 a week model expresses feelings of ennui in earnest, it can only be saved by a gifted writer and talented actor. The same applies to a character who achingly desires "belief in belief.")
Though its conclusion is a wee pat, and some of the tonal shifts between drama and light comedy come across as awkward and forced, the Young Girl and the Monsoon generally succeeds on its own modest terms. Pity about the DVD though.
Video: Presented in a pan and scan transfer (the film was shot in 35mm widescreen), Monsoon looks – simply put - awful. Colors are over saturated to the point of blooming, grain is everywhere, and obnoxious pixelation rears its ugly head on many occasions. Regrettable and nearly impossible to watch without a high level of frustration.
Audio: Purportedly mixed in DD 5.1, Monsoon is given, quite possibly, the most underwhelming audio presentation I have ever (ahem) heard. Dialogue is often uneven, the soundtrack often sounds hollow, and dropout occurred on no less than four separate occasions. However, any film with the good sense to include Tom Waits' "Better Off Without a Wife" (the song, not the sentiment) gets an obligatory gold star from me.
Although a low-budget affair, I suspect that the Young Girl and the Monsoon could - and certainly should - have been afforded a more respectful treatment. You know, one with a modicum of care and respect.
Extras: Nothing. No trailer, no commentary, no additional audio options, no bios. At least Vanguard is consistent.
Final Thoughts: The Young Girl and the Monsoon deserves a much better treatment than Vanguard elected to give it. Moreover, it requires a certain sort of gall to ask $29.95 for a substandard release bereft of supplemental materials.
However, if the above piques your interest, the film itself it at very least worth viewing – if you are fond of insightful family comedy /drama, you could easily do much worse. As I noted above, rent the Young Girl and the Monsoon with the above caveats in mind, and try to enjoy it despite Vanguard's scuttling.