Split into three segments (Penance, Loss, and Ignorance), Anywhere USA is a truly unique bit of filmmaking that's very hard to sum up in a simple way (the fact that I've been sitting here, trying to write this review for at least 24 hours is a testament to that fact). Directed, co-written, and edited by a man named Chusy, each of the three chunks focuses on a different set of characters, linked only by a fleeting recurring face there, a specific phrase or action there, and Chusy's overall tone, which is both light and deadpan. Chusy also experiments with voice-over, text on the screen, and unexpected censorship (the name of the town these events take place in is bleeped, and an address on a package is blurred out).
The difference between Anywhere USA and a crowd of Napoleon Dynamite knock-offs is that all of these elements feel deeply and wholeheartedly authentic. Starring an entire roster of first-time performers, the laughs generated by these people and their unusual personalities has less to do with directorial flair and contrived writing and more to do with the combination of the movie's anonymously midwestern setting and Chusy's love for each one of them. The first segment, about a break-up, seems to understand both parties equally, and there's an air of empathy when the jilted man (Mike Ellis) nervously starts an argument over whether his ex (Mary Griffin) has been using wet or dry Swiffers on the linoleum. At the same time, this is a segment of the film that eventually finds Ellis and his little person friend (Brian Fox) trying to foil a terrorist plot, in a series of absurd yet entertaining twists.
Later, the viewer is introduced to a struggling uncle (Jeremiah Brennan) trying to preserve the innocence of his niece Pearl (Perla Haney-Jardine). Already struggling with the loss of her parents, things take a turn for the worse when Pearl makes an unexpected discovery. Of everything in the movie, the true and absolute highlight is Haney-Jardine (Chusy's daughter), whose performance is absolutely perfect. She and Brennan form a believable, endearing rhythm with each other in scenes both comic and dramatic, and Haney-Jardine even holds her own during silent, solo moments, always expressing the emotional rollercoaster going on inside her head through questioning eyes. It's a funny, sweet segment filled both with painful truths and moments that will make your heart sing.
The least of the three segments is the last one, about a man (Ralph Brierley) who realizes out of the blue that he doesn't know any black people, and seeks (much to the chagrin of his wife and son) to rectify the situation. There are interesting ideas here, ranging from beards as a metaphor for deeply-held personal secrets to a number of thoughts on racism and class, but it lacks the spark of the first two even while containing some insightful, amusing moments.
It's hard sometimes to take a real cinematic leap of faith, jumping into a film without a single standby trait that one can hold onto like a safety net, but Anywhere USA is worth the blind faith. At a moment when both the independent film and "oddball" markets are flooded with repetitive, lackluster, uninspired product, the movie is a true diamond in the rough, filled with scenes and characters you aren't already familiar with before the movie starts playing. It's refreshing, funny, and quirky...in the best sense of the word.
The Video and Audio
Next, Chusy sits down for a feature-length audio commentary. The track covers some of the same ground as the featurette, but when it does, Chusy usually tells the story with more or different details, so it's not entirely repetitive. That said, he's pretty soft-spoken and there are a fair amount of gaps. If you really liked the film, it's a pleasant chat, but I imagine most people will be satisfied with the featurette, which provides many of the same details (or even better ones), and is a bit more lively.
Extras are rounded out by a short, jokey introduction (1:04) recorded for the film's premiere in Jacksonville, and a slideshow (1:49). Three original theatrical trailers for Anywhere USA are also included.