This Is What's "Missing" in Hollywood
Chris Kavan - wrote on 10/18/11
As far as independent films go, I admit I'm not what you would call a movie buff. I mostly stick to what's playing in multiplexes and if I do happen to catch something small, it's usually years after release or after a huge buzz has built up over the course of time. Missing Pieces is outside my normal comfort zone but if there's one thing I won't shy away from, it's taking a chance and this time it paid off.
I will say up front I received this copy as a screener. I also admit I put off watching this for far longer than I should have. What director Kenton Bartlett (and 588 very generous souls) have done is show Hollywood up. With a bare minimum budget, and about as much film experience, Missing Pieces manages resonate with me far more than anything I've seen in local theaters in recent memory.
The story concerns David Lindale, a broken man who has survived a car accident but comes back a different man. Delia cannot handle this stranger who used to be her love - and all but abandons him. His attempts at reconnecting fail at every turn until his shattered mind figures the only way to regain his love is to observe love - so he does what he feels is best: kidnaps two people, sets up a series of "challenges" and observes the results.
That is all on the surface, but the film explores so many themes, and explores them well, that it's a rare film you can watch from multiple viewpoints and come away with a different experience each time. Connection and loneliness - love and despair - memory and experience - the film has a certain dichotomy to it and it brings out the best of each element.
You will recognize Mark Boone Junior and Melora Walters - even if the names don't sound familiar, the faces certainly will be - who play the estranged couple. Boone Junior is a large, imposing character. Yet he plays David with a deft, soulful touch. He walks a fine line between madness and compassion - he sadistically removes a single piece from a puzzle before carefully packaging them back up at one point in the film and you want to lock him away - yet when he's trying to learn to paint (from everyone's favorite"Joy of Painting" artist, the late Bob Ross) to impress Delia, you just want to wrap the guy in a bear hug and tell him everything's going to work out.
Walter's Delia by contrast is a wreck of a woman. She still has to deal with Daniel - whether it's a home-cooked meal delivered at 2 a.m. or just showing up out of nowhere - she's the complete opposite: instead of trying to reconnect, she wants to forget things were ever good. It's a devastating, raw performance and one that leave you an emotional wreck as well.
The pair of unknowns who play the young, kidnapped couple Daniel Hassel and Taylor Engel, rise to the occasion. Hassel as Daylen Gordon is getting by, by just getting by. He cares for his younger brother but beyond that seems lost in the world. He halfheartedly hangs out with friends and parties, searching for a connection but not finding anything worth answering the phone a second time over. Meanwhile Engel's Maggie is working a dead-end supermarket job while dealing with her own family issues with her mother. Like Daylen, her own life seems to be leading nowhere.
The film is told intermingling each of the characters lives both in the present and past. We learn bits and pieces about what each is going through - David planning his project and Daylen and Maggie leading their lives - as they go through their ordeal you can see them go from unwilling subjects to gradually learning to honestly enjoy the companionship even under duress. David may use twisted logic but as unstable as his mind may be, he's brilliant in his own way.
Missing Pieces is a bit rough around the edges, but that's to be expected from a film that features a large cast of mostly unknowns and a crew that worked for pretty much free. However, I believe that overall it only adds to the impact the story has. If you eliminate those rough edges, I think you lose the emotional core of the film.
The story behind Missing Pieces reminds me of another film that also took quite awhile to complete but heralded the emergence of a talented direction. Eraserhead was David Lynch's five-year project that put his name on the map. I can only hope that Bartlett finds as much success because after seeing what he accomplished here, he deserves it.