Well, it’s not an easy film. During the Q&A with the lead actress, Ellen Barkin, a viewer asked about the film’s target audience. Barkin paused for a second, and then said, “It’s the IFC audience, I guess.” I do go to IFC every now and then if there’s a film I want to see, but I wouldn’t consider myself a part of the IFC audience. I don’t even know what that entails or whether I fill the requirements for it. In any case, I did watch the film, and it wasn’t nearly as morbid and pretentious as I thought it would be (as far as I could tell from its trailer).
Shit Year is a love story between Colleen West (Ellen Barkin) and Harvey West (Luke Grimes). Or… it’s the story of a retired actress who tries to work through her heartbreak over a young, handsome actor. The two coincidentally share the same last name, and within the first minutes of the film, Colleen questions whether that’s the only thing that connects them. So you immediately get the feeling that things aren’t working out. The story is non-linear, but it’s not difficult to understand what’s going on and when it’s going on. Through out the film, you get glimpses of the couple’s relationship; how it starts, progresses, and ends. Though most of the film is Ellen Barkin-central, and it invites the viewer to take a deep plunge into her mind, which a bit self-centered, a bit obsessive, but most of all, lonely.
There are two things I really liked about this movie. The first is the dialog. I found it extremely humorous, sometimes realistic, other times absurd, but never to the extent that it’s over the top dramatic or forced. For example, during a scene where Barkin is doing her last interview on a TV show, the host asks her if her retirement is the real deal. She looks at him and says, “You know, I absolutely hate those two words together, but for the sake of your show, I’ll allow it.” Then, she goes on to talk about why she didn’t have kids and that she thinks of herself as selfish for not being able to give up her craft to raise kids. “You know what they say, you get the kids you deserve,” she says resentfully. “I don’t know what I would have deserved.”
So there is a bunch of self-questioning, self-blaming, and the desire to “make things right” in the film, which are all executed successfully, I think. In another scene, during a conversation with her neighbor about her profession, Barkin says, “Being someone else can be addictive. It’s strange how familiar being a stranger can be.” Hence, there are other issues examined in the film, such as not being comfortable in your own skin, glorifying others, pretending like you’re someone else, being joyless, having difficulty letting go, etc. Things that most, if not all people deal with at some point in their lives. That’s the second thing I really like about Shit Year. I think it’s pretty brave to try to deal with these internal dilemmas so openly through an artistic medium. In a period where action and adventure dominates the screen, I found Shit Year refreshing and not depressing despite the subject matter. In fact, it’s a different type of adventure, a more internal, cerebral one. So don’t worry about the negative IndieWire review and the 6.0 stars (out of 10) the movie received on IMDB. Go see it and enjoy the beautiful, grainy 16mm in black and white.
For more info, check out this interview with director, Cam Archer.