Things I Don’t Understand, 2011.
Written and Directed by David Spaltro.
Starring Molly Ryman, Aaron Mathias, Grace Folsom, Lisa Eichhorn, Hugo Dillon, Meissa Hampton and Eleanor Wilson.
A detached graduate student forms a cathartic bond with a terminally ill girl and a damaged bartender as she and her artist roommates face eviction from their Brooklyn loft.
Independent filmmaker David Spaltro made his feature debut back in 2007 with …Around, a “personal love-letter to New York City” that enjoyed a solid festival run before gaining online distribution and premiering on PBS in the United States this past Christmas. Now he returns with his second film, another NYC-centric indie drama entitled Things I Don’t Understand, which sees Spaltro reunite with …Around star Molly Ryman, who leads the cast here as Violet Kubelick (Molly Ryman), a brilliant but emotionally fragile young grad student struggling to complete a thesis on near-death experiences and the big question of “what happens when you die” – research which ultimately leads to a failed suicide attempt.
Struggling to find meaning in her life, Violet has slipped into a self-destructive cycle of drugs, alcohol and casual sex, making ends meet with a minimum wage job at the local bookstore whilst sharing an apartment with two equally troubled roommates – bisexual musician Remy (Hugo Dillon) and performance artist Gabby (Meissa Hampton). Encouraged by her therapist to complete her research, Violet begins interviewing Sara (Grace Folsom), a young woman suffering from a terminal form of cancer. The two strike up a friendship during the final few weeks of Sara’s short life, while Violet also turns her eye towards the local bartender, Parker (Aaron Mathias), a mysterious guy who seems to have his own fair share of troubles; as these new relationships grow, so to does the hope that Violet will find the answers she’s been seeking.
Things I Don’t Understand is a well-crafted and accomplished film, which fully demonstrates Spaltro’s talents as an emerging filmmaker. Although it deals with some pretty weighty themes, the film has a good deal of humour amid the drama and Spaltro’s writing and direction is exemplary through-out. So too are the performances he draws from his up-and-coming cast, particularly Molly Ryman, who delivers a fabulous, multi-layered turn as the complex Violet, while Grace Folsom is also deserving of praise and really shines in her feature film debut. The two actresses stand out amongst a more than capable supporting cast – which includes two-time Golden Globe-nominee Lisa Eichhorn (Yanks, The Talented Mr. Ripley) – and I’d expect to see a lot more from these two, and from writer-director David Spaltro – in the coming years.
If there’s one slight criticism I have of Things I Don’t Understand is that at times it seems there’s a little too much going on, with Spaltro juggling several subplots that weave in the supporting characters and their own respective issues. This did occasionally pull me out of the main storyline, but overall it didn’t detract too much from what is certainly an ambitious and engrossing character drama. If you get a chance to catch Things I Don’t Understand during its festival run this year, then I’d recommend giving it a try.