I happened to stumble upon Spring Forward accidentally at a local library one evening and noticing that Liev Schreiber was involved, took it home on a whim. After viewing the film, I became angry—not angry at the film itself as it was one of the most gorgeous, understated and moving American films to be released in the last few years but angry that, like many important independent works, it had fallen under the radar in cities other than New York and Los Angeles, left unnoticed on very few video shelves and left to chance to discover in libraries or on Netflix. It’s absurd to me that the latest cross dressing Eddie Murphy film Norbit or even the biggest summer blockbusters get so much advertising on everything from popcorn bags at the local theaters to ads during prime time television. However, movies that truly inspire, movies that are completely without a trace of cynicism, real “people movers” such as The Station Agent and Spring Forward are left by the wayside after being lauded with awards and critical praise from noteworthy critics and festivals across the country while most of the movies on multiple screens at local malls will no doubt earn numerous Razzie nominations. It’s a common problem with money and lack of star power being the most glaring reasoning, however, my goal here is to draw attention to a worthwhile film so I’ll get off my soapbox and urge you to track it down.
As the film opens we meet the always versatile Liev Schreiber who stars as Paul, a recently released convict who’d served time for armed robbery, on his first day on the job working for the local parks system in the Northeast. While Paul is nothing but apologetic and full of soul searching insight which seems to be the result of reading far too many of the new age, spiritual and self-help books available to him on the inside, Paul’s supervisor Murph (Ned Beatty who has never been better) is a man with the gift of wisdom, due in part to his age as he nears retirement but also in his ability to cut right down to the heart of any matter, forget all of the ways one can fixate on their situation and just be down-to-Earth and completely in the moment. Over the course of a year, the two begin to have a noticeable effect on one another as what first seems like a traditional coworker relationship evolves into something closer to father and son. It’s a rare thing in American film to see two men bare their soles for the length of a feature film and former award winning playwright Tom Gilroy, who as he told filmcritic.com was inspired by his own relationship with his father, proves to be a natural filmmaker, unafraid of letting scenes play out with silence or just long monologues back and forth, with complete trust in the intelligence of his audience. Other characters come and go including Peri Gilpin (Frasier) and Campbell Scott who both turn in nice little cameos but the most interesting characters, namely Murph’s beloved wife and his dying gay son Bobby who are never seen, are left conspicuously absent, living just as much in our minds as they probably would if we would have actually seen them onscreen. Instead, like most great storytellers, the film (nearly a novel in its own right), lives in our imagination—we feel that we not only know the two characters inside and out but also the people they’re discussing so often. In this summer of endless sequels which don’t expect much from viewers other than to simply rent an air-conditioned seat for two hours, clichéd as it is, the fresh air evident in independent works such as Spring Forward will prove much more satisfying. While most of the summer blockbusters one forgets on the way to finding their car in the parking lot, Spring Forward will stay in your mind for days if not weeks afterward.
Rent Spring Forward