If NPR ever decided to start making movies, Racing Daylight would probably be their first box office smash. (Or flop, actually.) Because Racing Daylight - a tweedy, low-fi look at a small, East Coast town's past and present - is very, very NPR. And it stars David Strathairn! You can't get more charmingly "this American life" than that. Cape Cod ho!
Sadie (Melissa Leo) lives a dead-end life on
Filmed on a shoestring budget, with costumes and props seemingly from the Dollar Store, Racing Daylight has some moments which are adorable and quirky and charming, and many other moments which are scrape-out-your-eyeballs awful. Relatedly, the tone swings wildly around - is it a Gothic horror-romance? Is it a whimsical What's Eating Gilbert Grape?-ish look at the weird and wonderful of American's forgotten poor? Is it a David Strathairn/Civil War broad comedy gush fest? Any of these options would have been great. Unfortunately, Racing Daylight has shrieking violins in one moment and dueling banjos the next. It has some very good acting - such as David Strathairn's pitch perfect weirdness as Henry the Nerd, with his "Do you like facts?" non sequiturs - and some very bad acting - such as Melissa Leo going a bit too broad on the coy girlishness of Sadie-infatuated. The writing is rough. And, overall, everyone is very, very earnest - which earns some points, at least. Hey, we wouldn't mind sitting in a classroom or a museum and watching this while someone explained the threading work in Union uniforms. Hey, so we're earnest Civil War buffs too - sue us!
But should YOU watch it? ("Wait, wait, don't tell me!" we hear you cry.) Well... if, like us, you get your kicks from American history and, especially, facts, then yes. There just aren't enough Civil War movies out there, and it's always nice to see a smart Union uniform. Be warned, though, this is not by any measure a "good" movie. It's clunky, clumsy, awkwardly filmed and very cheap. If you want fancy, polished filmwork on the era, go for Glory (to cry), Gettysburg (to learn, and then cry), Cold Mountain (OK, we haven't actually seen this one) or Shenandoah (to Jimmy Stewart). If you don't need to focus on the Civil War, but instead would just appreciate a handheld tour through history with David Strathairn, preferably in a state of romantic poverty, then you can watch any number of excellent John Sayles films - Limbo (Alaska!), Matewan (West Virginia!), Eight Men Out (daaaa Bears!). If you don't have any of those at hand, this will do.
Oh yeah, and if you like Tom Waits' experimental industrial music with saws and banjos and other hard-to-identify instruments, you can watch this. The intro music is crazy!
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