Andrew C. Erin’s ‘Simple Things’ (2007)

17Jul07

I have not been so depressed by a family film since I finally saw Bambi in its entirety when I was fourteen. Writer-director Andrew Erin’s second full-length feature begins on a dour sequence — a father and son attending the funeral of their wife and mother — and ends with a note that isn’t that much happier when the father saves his son from dying of an asthma attack. The somber tone prevails throughout the film, alleviated only occasionally by the natural, disarming performance of young Channing Nichols. This film is practically a study of depression, isolation, and loss.

The premise of the film is not unfamiliar: a doctor from a large city opens a practice in a small town. However, the impetus that gets Dr. Gibbs to North Carolina seems rather contrived. I would have preferred that he move because he needed to relocate after his wife’s death. The impulse is not an uncommon one. The plot of Simple Things does not offer much in the way of surprises, relying on tried and true plot devices of the family film genre. But Simple Things handles them with more subtlety than most. My main argument with the script is that I have difficulty believing that people living in a community 20-30 minutes away from Asheville would be so antagonistic toward outsiders. Sure, Asheville is not a large city, but it draws a lot of tourists. I’d imagine that the people would see “city folk” fairly frequently.

The film features many solid performances, with those of Nichols and Amber Benson standing out particularly. The only actor who seems out of his depth is Cameron Bancroft. His performance feels wooden at times, which works to an extent given that he is grieving his wife; however, as the film progresses his demeanor doesn’t change much even though Evan warms to his environment.

This film looks fantastic. Brian Baugh’s cinematography does justice to the beauty of North Carolina’s mountains. However, the editing felt a little rough at points, most notably when Dr. Gibbs sees Sally and Darryl at the dance (was the actual baby only available for those insert shots?) and when Darryl is demanding that Dr. Gibbs help April (Sally just seems to appear).

After watching the film, I can’t say that I have a strong desire to view it again. The film wasn’t poorly made or poorly acted, but the story didn’t allow for me to connect with enough of the characters to endure that theater of pain a second time.

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