Director: Gabriel Diamond
Co-directors: Zak Barnett and Gabriel Goldstein
Starring: Zak Barnett, Rebecca Noon, Lew Levinson
An in-competition title at the ongoing Dances With Films festival, gritty indie film ‘Less’ examines the intrapersonal struggles of a recently homeless man, and the woman who awkwardly attempts to come to his rescue.
While mental illness has a lot to do with the situations of many homeless individuals, San Francisco’s Finn (co-writer Zak Barnett, who also nabs a co-directing credit) has, for his own dark reasons, actually chosen to live on the street. He wants to dramatically change his perspective and unburden himself of what he feels are the entanglements of possessions, but after several months the rough conditions seem to have taken a toll on his mental health as well. When the audience meets him, Finn is busy taking Polaroids of inanimate objects (manhole covers, parking meters, trash cans) and then attaching said photographs to them. He also engages passersby in weird, fitful fashion, and occasionally hands out change to strangers, instead of asking for it.
Mia (Rebecca Noon), mousy and unhappy, works at a small cafe near where Finn hangs out, and one day sees a randomly posted Polaroid in which he has declared himself “invisible.” She soon attempts to interact with him, and Finn finally relents, accepting an invitation to come home with Mia for dinner. The next morning, though, Finn is back out on the street, where he eventually crosses paths with Gunther (Lew Levinson), a fellow homeless guy who convinces him to perform a strange bit of street theater. While Mia tries to understand why Finn — seemingly intelligent and not insane — won’t more fully engage with her, Finn tries to reconcile the still-raw hurt of his recent past and his desire to remain aloof with this strange new woman who keeps extending her hand in friendship, and more.
A little of ‘Less’ goes a long way, even at a lean, sinewy 77 minutes. Directed and photographed by Gabriel Diamond, the movie has the gritty, defiant personality of much outsider cinema; it relishes the distance between its uncommunicative putative protagonist and the audience, because that distance is a correlative emotional placeholder for all the very same societal engagement and connection that Finn is consciously rejecting. It’s a shame, then, that the character of Mia isn’t more convincingly developed. If her unhappiness and isolation were acute and full-bodied (there are two thinly sketched scenes of her at work interacting with her manager, and one of her alone at home), viewers would have an appreciation for her desperate connection to Finn, and might be more forgiving of some of ‘Less” dawdling.
The acting here is quite solid, if not of the knockout variety. Diamond, trading in close-ups and unique framing, is interested in highlighting what he views as the core emotions of scenes without necessarily doing the narrative lifting to get his characters to that point. Barnett, who resembles a scuffed-up Josh Duhamel, ably communicates Finn’s standoffishness, and loosening grip on what could be loosely characterized as society’s reality. With his piercing eyes, one gets a sense of his fractured psyche in a way that flashbacks and voiceover later rather needlessly flesh out. Noon — who looks a bit like a theoretical younger sister of Miranda July, and perhaps could have drifted in from one of her movies — is lovely as a wounded bird. It’s just that the joint repair ‘Less’ proposes for these two damaged souls isn’t quite as convincing as its makers would have us believe. For more information, visit www.LessMovie.com.
Written by: Brent Simon