Arcadia Olivia Silver

Arcadia Olivia Silver
8
When Arcadia opens, Tom (John Hawkes) is waking up his daughters, Caroline (Kendall Toole) and Greta (Ryan Simkins), as well as son Nat (Ty Simpkins) to take them on a cross-country journey from New England to California. Though vague about the rationale, Tom assures his speculative kids — each at a very different age and resulting emotional state — that where they're going is filled with exciting wonders. He also assures them that their mother will be along later. Oldest daughter Caroline, preoccupied with the impending geographic distance from her boyfriend, somewhat understands what's going on; she's old enough to know that her parents are flawed and to see the underpinnings of discord in their relationship. Contrarily, Nat, who likes to dress up as a girl and dance around, is far too young to have any concept of what's going on; he's simply excited to be on a road trip with his siblings and excitedly asks about the many diversions they might experience along the way. Where Arcadia grounds its story as a coming-of-age parable is in 12-year-old Greta. Initially, she believes her father's tales, anticipating the pool and glamorous locale of their new California digs. But as their trip wears on and her father's mood vacillates between open hostility, passive-aggressiveness and whimsical bliss, she starts to question the distinctions between words and actions, noting her dad's tendency to antagonize anyone that doesn't immediately say or do exactly what he wants. As captured by first-time feature director Olivia Silver, this gradual shift in worldview — from optimistic to disappointed and angry — unfolds as tragic. It's gradual and unembellished — Greta merely reacts to her father's argument with a waitress that dares suggest his daughter should be able to order what she wants — leading to outbursts that are delayed and logical rather than a direct result of an action. In short, the familial dynamics are believable. No one has a concise argument about moments sequentially; it all builds up and boils over at inopportune moments. Since Silver is focused on creating fully realized human beings more so than preaching any sort of specified message or didactic, each character bounces between identifiable and loathsome, being deeply flawed despite having good intentions. As such, even though Tom is often alienating and hypocritical, he's still a father trying his best to make a shitty situation into something uplifting for his kids. He isn't a great dad, which Greta comes to realize — we get a sense that an adolescence of rebellion and thinly repressed rage is on the horizon — but his heart is in the right place, making this tragic but heartfelt testament to the human experience as painful as it is comforting. Interestingly, the short film included with the DVD, Little Canyon, which was Silver's template for this effort, doesn't really work at all, despite having the same basic idea. Usually, short films fleshed out feel forced in comparison to their source material, but here, the feature-length treatment actually serves the material well. (Film Movement)