a theatre, film & pop culture review
Who: Jessica Goldberg, writer & director
Why Watch: Jessica Goldberg’s play Refuge won the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize before premiering at Playwrights Horizons in 1999; Goldberg then adapted and directed Refuge for the screen. She has written seven produced plays and has also written for television shows like Parenthood.
After her parents fail to return from a Florida vacation (a postcard reveals they just can’t deal with family problems anymore), eldest sister Amy (Krysten Ritter) cares for younger siblings Nat (darkly humorous but sick and depressed) and Lucy (sweet but attention-starved and self-abusive) in rural upstate New York. Working from home, she stuffs real estate mailings and mothers her siblings without complaint, and when she’s done for the day, heads to the local bar for a solo cocktail and some relief from the monotony and loneliness. There, she meets Sam (Brian Geraghty), a drifter suffering from his own heartbreak who quietly charms her into bed and, eventually, charms himself into her life.
Krysten Ritter, who has recently blown up as the star of the critically acclaimed Jessica Jones, was largely known for her comedic work in shows like Veronica Mars and Gilmore Girls. As Amy, her sadness envelops her as fully as the cozy, over-sized sweaters she’s so fond of wearing. It’s a subtle performance with layers of frustration and anger woven quietly into a numbing melancholy. Ritter’s Amy is equally matched by Geraghty’s simple, open Sam, but Goldberg focuses more on fleshing out backstories for the supporting siblings that never go anywhere, rather than building a convincing relationship between the two. It’s never clear why the quietly ambitious Amy – she gets lost in grand sweep of literary romances and regrets never finishing college – settles for Sam when he doesn’t even know how to emotionally support her in the way she needs. But Doug Emmett’s fragmentary cinematography, which astutely captures small town isolation in the dead of winter, and Ritter’s performance of alternating quiet hope and despair lend the film a dreamy, likable quality. Refuge‘s slice of life might not add up, but the at-times raw feelings it evokes are rooted appealingly in honesty and care.