NATURALISM Theo Green and Jonah Parker.
On a sultry afternoon a visitor parks her old Volvo on a leafy street of lumbering Victorian houses. She follows a vegetable garden-lined driveway to a backyard of shade trees, riotous flowers, statuary fountains, rope swings, a ping pong table, chairs pulled up to a café table, and a hammock, where a woman of a certain age dozes, an open book beside her. Waking, the hammock-dweller gives the visitor a key, "Laura left snacks for us on the stairs inside, there's goat cheese, strawberries — and gin!" The visitor fetches the treats from an art-and-book-lined stairway and returns to the yard. Through a hidden side gate, a neighbor appears, bearing a tray of freshly-squeezed juices and vodka. From the driveway a young woman bikes in with a smile, "Did you find the gin?"
The bike rider is Laura Colella, the hammock dweller her downstairs neighbor Yvonne Parker, and the drinks bearer her next-door neighbor Virginia Laffey. Along with the six other denizens of their two Providence houses, the three star in the new film Breakfast with Curtis, written, directed, and shot by Colella in this very yard; it recently screened to rave reviews at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
I began with a description of my arrival for a visit, not a scene from the film. But the visit is the sort of thing that might have appeared in the movie. In 2010 Colella shelved a years-old project as too big to finance in a harsh economy. She wanted to make a movie now. But how? A veteran writer and director, she zoomed in on her immediate surroundings and saw a cinematic setting and an available — if untested — intergenerational cast. Soon there was a script: an eccentric bookseller enlists his withdrawn 14-year-old neighbor for an art project, in the process healing and realigning relationships between a group of bohemian neighbors. The story was fiction, but the characters were written with the voices of Colella's neighbors in mind, which helps explain the naturalism achieved by a cast of nearly all first-time performers.
As in her films Tax Day (1998) and Stay Until Tomorrow (2004), Colella unspools her narrative episodically, with wry humor, inviting viewers to observe and make subtle connections over time. As that is how we actually live, the viewing experience makes us consider: what is it to be alive? It is this pull, perhaps, combined with the gorgeous, hyper-verdant look of the film, that has inspired many viewers to say that they want to come live in the world where the film is set. The notion puzzles her. "It shouldn't make you want to come here," she laughs, "it should make you look for new possibilities where you are." They could be as close as your back yard.
Breakfast with Curtis screens August 10 at 6:30 pm at the Vets.