Loosely based on the novel by Tom Drury, “The Driftless Area” is another one of those films that’s so determined to be quirky and original that it neglects to tend to its story and characters. It reeks of an amateur film festival movie, feeling like a messy student project that’s just not quite good enough to be screen publicly (that it premiered at Tribeca is astounding).
After the death of his parents, Pierre (Anton Yelchin) returns to his sleepy hometown and is happy to reconnect with childhood friend Carrie (Alia Shawkat). Pierre soon becomes enchanted by the mysterious Stella (Zooey Deschanel), a woman who may or may not have died in a house fire. The pair take up with a weirdly mystical hermit (Frank Langella) and find themselves on the wrong side of a couple of violent criminals (John Hawkes and Ciaran Hinds) who seek revenge.
I don’t need a movie to be spelled out for me, but the lazy, forced whimsy here is maddening. The uninteresting story is more than a little ambiguous and it’s wildly inconsistent, leaving the viewer with far more questions than answers. Is Stella really dead? Is Pierre? Why can Carrie see them both? Is this purgatory or a metaphor for small town life? What the heck is happening?
Of course all of these folks are connected as a forced plot device in a tired attempt at cleverness, but it just comes across as another irritating gimmick. The cast is talented but these are unpleasant actors in their own right. At least the leads have an off-putting chemistry that works.
It’s bittersweet to see the late Yelchin star in this film because he built his career on choosing very peculiar, odd indie roles like this. I just wish “The Driftless Area” was a better movie.
Matt was unavailable for review.