SCARECROW ON SEATTLE
The Off Hours (2011)
You know when you wake up too early and everything is blurry? The world is fuzzy and your brain is slow to process what's going on? It usually wears off as you wake up, but some people, like many of the characters in The Off Hours, seem trapped in that state for years. Writer, director, and recent Stranger Genius Award winner Megan Griffiths' first feature is a heartbreakingly beautiful portrait of people stuck in their own cavernous ruts without the strength to climb out. The fine ensemble is led by Francine (Amy Seimetz), a night shift waitress at a tiny roadside diner who has spent a dozen years behind the counter either fending off truckers' advances or sneaking off for a tryst in the bathroom. Her boss Stu (Tony Doupe) is an alcoholic struggling to remain sober and keep a grip on the last fraying strands of contact with his teenage daughter. They and the rest of the characters crawl through their days, dulling themselves with sex, booze, coffee, video games, sleep-whatever fills the time. A break comes when Francine begins flirting with Oliver (Ross Partridge), a truck driver taking time from his banking career (and the family) for "perspective." His refusal to give in to her seduction causes Francine to take a moment and reflect on just what she's doing. Griffths' screenplay doesn't over explain or exploit the characters' past troubles for dramatic effect, and no one has a joyful, life changing experience that saves them from themselves. The script and subtle yet strong performances from the whole cast draw you in, and you can't help but be endeared to them and their fate. It's a story of people who've either forgotten or never known what they were supposed to be. As the film goes on, you root for them to wake up and figure it out.
Among the stories on the DVD's making of featurette, director of photography Benjamin Kasulke explains just what it takes to create a bleary 4 a.m. feel for every scene, even if it's supposed to be the middle of the day. We hear from producers and actors and others who enthusiastically came together to make Griffiths' movie. Your Sister's Sister writer/director Lynn Shelton, who has a small but memorable role in the film, was also a consulting producer. She comments on the great spirit of cooperation filmmakers have in Seattle and how after spending more time in L.A. she's come to value that spirit more and more.
The credits proudly state "This film was shot entirely on location in Washington State," mainly around nameless abandoned lots and railroad tracks and rundown motels. The diner, Ed's #1 Cafe in Burien, had been closed for years when Griffiths and crew came in to film. The only building I recognized outright was the Georgian Motel around 88th on Aurora. I think Francine and her foster brother Corey get drunk at the Zoo Tavern on Eastlake (with Sean Nelson tending bar), but it's hard to make out specifics in the shadows. The last scene gives Francine a glimpse of a bright Seattle skyline from Harbor Island. Hopefully for her, it's an indication of a better life ahead.
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