Writer-director: Joseph Mitacek
Starring: Andrew Ramaglia, Emily Cline, Wally Dalton, Ryan Cooper, Deb Craig
An achingly sincere (and achingly familiar), Seattle-set drama of parental bereavement and relationship drift, writer-director Joseph Mitacek’s Morning, which just screened as part of the recently concluded 14th annual Dances With Films festival, is proof that there’s quiet, to-scale reward in plenty of indie cinema, if predominantly for those who don’t mind its laid-track similarity to so much heartstring-tugging Hollywood studio product.
Morning centers around Michael (Andrew Ramaglia) and Sarah Hade (Emily Cline), a married couple with a two-year-old son, and all of the typical sorts of challenges that come with trying to juggle both home and work. Sarah is going back to school and closing in on a degree, while Michael works on a fishing crew that’s seen better days. His stresses inform a certain boozy detachment and isolation, which in turn further calcifies Sarah’s resentments. Things take a turn for the tragic when Michael falls asleep while babysitting one evening, and their son drowns. Sarah, while understandably grief-stricken, is also additionally racked with a complementary sense of guilt since she stayed out for a drink that night with an old college boyfriend, Alan (Ryan Cooper), even though nothing more than a single kiss happened. In this grey aftermath, the couple struggles with how, and whether, to say together.
Bluntly, Morning is the sort of film that could carve out a certain niche in the commercial marketplace if it had big stars or recognizable faces attached, but as rendered stands virtually no chance of doing so. There’s a legitimately melancholic soul to the movie that holds one’s attention in they’re feeling more or less sympathetic. And Ramaglia and particularly Cline offer up game performances. But, beat by beat, almost all of Morning‘s arguments and scenes of dramatic intensity feel nipped from some well-worn screenwriter’s playbook of heightened stakes rather than flowing honestly from the characters. Does a man get pissy with his wife over a heretofore unmentioned ex-boyfriend at his child’s wake, or (even if he’s drunk) rage at a work colleague for “drinking his whiskey” at the same event? And when there’s an accident at work, does a boss appear on the scene, sternly admonish the offending, inattentive party and then, seconds later, escalate things himself, yelling, “I can’t do this anymore! You’re fired!”?
Maybe, I guess. But Mitacek handles these and other dramatic turns — including the movie’s big battle-to-save-their-drowned-son sequence — so artlessly that that contrivance of each bit is highlighted instead of being smoothly stitched under. Rather than try to underplay things and get at the root of Michael and Sarah’s personal devastations, and how they overlap but are also different, Mitacek instead repeatedly comes up with ways to foist and inject puffed-up drama into the proceedings — grabs at audience attention that come across as needlessly showy. Loss and terrible pain visits all of us at certain times in our lives, but that doesn’t mean that all movies that try to merely hold up a mirror to that loss are created equal.
Written by: Brent Simon