An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Can you resist a movie that opens with this sentence:  “The summer my father was depressed, the face of our Lord Jesus Christ appeared on a tortilla at the Morning Glory Café?”  Be warned that appreciation of  “Off the Map” also requires a weakness for such sights as the tall mast of a sailboat moving slowly behind a sand dune in the desert of New Mexico .  This is a movie to be seen, not described, a shaggy dog story that has spilled from inventive minds, a masterpiece of understatement. 

Is this a drama?  Then why are you laughing?   A comedy?  Yes, but you might be the only one laughing from time to time, as I was, when I saw the sailboat.  Whatever it is, just settle in to enjoy the dead-on rhythm of the players.  Director/producer Campbell Scott has enlisted a cast perfectly suited to delivering what he intends.  They all get the joke.

This is the story of an extended family living happily in the desert and of the IRS man who comes to find out why they haven’t filed a return in seven years.  It is a delicious understatement to say this family is not driven by money.   

Bo (Valentina d’Angelis) is an adolescent living with her mother and father somewhere near Gallup , New Mexico .  Her father, Charlie (Sam Elliot), sunk in a deep depression, spends his days with his head hung low, crying silently.  Her mother, Arlene (Joan Allen) spends hers doing motherly things like searching for treasures in the dump, skinning a bear, growing food.  Bo passes the time writing letters to corporations demanding compensation for some defective product that has harmed her.  The mail then brings a case of the offending product, which she gives away, one by one, as presents.

On the day that IRS agent William Gibbs finds the family after a four day trip over the desert, Arlene is working in her garden as she best likes to be:  naked.  In one of those marvelous sprinklings of fairy dust, Mr. Gibbs sinks into the family aura, becoming a full-fledged eccentric on first exposure.  Bo’s comment: “Someone who I perceived as a link to the outside world had in fact been swallowed by mine.”  Credit Joan Ackermann with this magical script.

You will remember Mr. Gibbs in his polyester tie and boxer shorts as he and Charlie talk through the night saying much in few words.  The movie is a wily metaphor for our convention bound lives.  What a relief to spend time with a family that doesn’t waste a second worrying about anything or planning for the future.  Don’t try to figure this one out.  Just go.  If you have to look for it, you’ll be glad you did. 

NOTE:  “Off the Map was first screened for critics in 2003.”  After being stuck inexplicably for two years in the distribution network, it has now opened officially for your viewing delight.  


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