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Evergreen (2004)

Other // PG-13 // November 10, 2009
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted December 20, 2009 | E-mail the Author
As a film critic, I can't help but analyze most of the movies put in front of me. Obviously, the good films will occupy the entirety of my attention span, so logically, the worse the movie is, the more likely it is I'm mentally analyzing it as I'm watching it. Evergreen is one of those films that gives my movie reviewing mentality a sense of whiplash, switching on and off intermittently as I watch the film stumble through to the end with one hand while begging forgiveness with the other. At the end, I'm left with a conundrum: a film I know I sort of liked, filled with flaws I legitimately shouldn't ignore.

Kate (Cara Seymour) and Henri (Addie Land) are a mother and daughter making their way out to Washington state in order to move in with Kate's mother (Lynn Cohen). It is clearly not the first time the pair has moved with visions of a fresh start, and their host doesn't seem exactly happy to have them. Afraid of her mother's potential flakiness and frustrated at the bottom-of-the-barrel state of her home life, Henri (short for Henrietta) begins to push away from her mother. At the same time, she meets Chat (Noah Fleiss), a boy at her school with a huge house and seemingly loving parents, and she begins to gravitate towards his family rather than her own.

Evergreen was both written and directed by first-timer Enid Zentelis, and it's a double-edged experience. On one hand, it's Zentelis' direction that creates an atmosphere that persuasively prods me to overlook the film's small shortcomings. As much as I like eye-popping, gonzo, stylish direction, I'm also a sucker for films that envelop the viewer in a shambling, low-key, true-to-life mood, and Evergreen manages to do this in spades. Perhaps it's the fact that it was shot in my home state (I can practically feel the weather in this movie), or the way the score by John Stirratt and Patrick Sansone sets the perfect longing tone (of the band Wilco and side project Autumn Defense), but whatever it is, it just works. And this is not to say that Zentelis' direction is entirely passive either: a shot as simple and quick as a cut to a hand grabbing a door is visceral and relatable.

Aiding Zentelis in creating this sensation are her two leads. Since I first saw Cara Seymour in Adaptation. as Nicolas Cage's would-be girlfriend, I've seen her give strong supporting turns in several movies, and she's very good here, hitting the right nerve-racking notes of clingy optimism in a trip to the museum while Henri is being insistently distant, and conjuring up real heartbreak in a few other painful moments. Land, on the other hand, in her debut performance, is more than a little rough around the edges when it comes to dialogue delivery (which isn't entirely her fault -- more on this below), she makes up for it in felt emotion, conveying most of what she needs to through her eyes and actions rather than words.

The problem is Zentelis' screenplay, which could use some more work. There are some great, heartbreaking scenes, most specifically a key sequence where Kate shows up unannounced at Chet's house trying to find out what Henri is up to and is forced, at Henri's insistence, to pretend to be a stranger in front of Chet and his parents. Specifically, the problem is the dialogue, which often sounds flat and on-the-nose. I'm reminded of one of the lines from "Futurama": "You can't just have the characters say what they feel! That makes me feel angry!" I wonder if another draft could have shifted a few scenes backwards or forwards and worked the dialogue further, but IMDb tells me Zentelis took the screenplay to the Sundance Screenwriters Lab in 2000, so perhaps she'd been advised otherwise.

The other element the screenplay lacks is balance, which could have been provided by a few more pages. It's rare that I watch a movie and legitimately wonder why it isn't longer, but Evergreen crams too much into 86 minutes. Given that this is an independent production, I wouldn't be shocked to hear that budgetary constraints reduced the film in scope and some things just had to go, but the film doesn't quite know how to allow Kate and Henri to share the spotlight. Even if Zentelis' intention is to make Henri the main character (which is the direction the film ultimately seems to lean), we also get several scenes focused on Kate's relationship with her mother (as a parallel her relationship with Henri) and Kate's interest in Jim (Gary Farmer), a card dealer at the local casino. There's also a few key revelations about Chet's mother Susan (Mary Kay Place) that could be better spread throughout the screenplay; these developments to the end in the final film.

Evergreen comes with one of those rare covers that is actually somewhat striking and interesting to look at, if far short of the best artwork I've seen. Given how much awful DVD artwork there is out there, it's always nice to see an image that doesn't involve any blatant Photoshopping (I just get tired of looking at fake shadows). The back cover is a little texty but is also fairly nice and easygoing in its design, and there is no insert inside the case.

The Video and Audio
I'm sorry to say that right off the bat, the first thing you'll notice about the 1.85:1 widescreen presentation on this DVD is that it's non-anamorphic. This is an independent film released by an indie label, but in the 21st century, with Blu-Ray gaining traction and DVDs firmly cemented as the most popular home video format in history, we shouldn't have to deal with non-anamorphic presentations of any movie. The second thing you'll notice, equally unfortunately, is that it contains digital artifacting in what may or may not be the "first shot" (it's a bunch of shots faded in and out of each other, so who knows precisely) and never lets up. In fact, there almost wasn't a single shot in the entire movie that didn't come alive with a sheen of blocks in every darkened corner. There's also posterization here and there and a total lack of fine detail in the majority of these shots (a few distance shots compeltely devolving into digital mush).

Audio is provided in the form of a perfectly acceptable and entirely unremarkable Dolby Digital 2.0 track. There are some muffled lines, but I'd be shocked if it was a DVD audio problem and not inherent to the film's production audio. Sadly, the DVD offers no assistance in this area: this disc is neither subtitled or closed captioned in any language.

The Extras
Text bios for the cast and crew, a page of info about the distributor, Indiepix, and the movie's original theatrical trailer are included.

Evergreen is a likable film, which goes a long way towards a recommendation, especially for anyone on the lookout for entertainment written and directed by or starring women. The DVD, on the other hand, goes a long way towards my suggestion that anyone interested rent it instead of buy it, given its terrible video presentation and lack of significant extras.

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