Betsy Brandt Breaking Bad

CLAIRE IN MOTION Review: The Chilly Indie Drama Blues

Monday, January 16, 2017 Rob Samuelson

A gentle tap on the shoulder awakens light sleeper Claire (Breaking Bad’s Betsy Brandt). It’s her husband, Paul (Chris Beetem), a bearded guy wearing clothes suited for the outdoors. He quietly her he’s heading out and she mumbles a quick “good luck, have fun” message to him as he walks out of the room on his way to a weekend-long survivalist trek into the woods near the Ohio university where they are both employed as professors.

Photo credit: Claire In Motion/Facebook

What Claire doesn’t know in this groggy moment is that this is the last time she will see her husband. When he doesn’t return on the third day as he promised, she begins to worry and she files a missing person report with the local police. Panic-inducing days turn to despair-filled weeks. Search parties are called off. Claire is left to stew in the uncertainty of her husband’s fate. Did he leave her willingly to start a new life without her or their son, Connor (Zev Haworth)? Connor, a bit of an odd duck made odder still by his grief over losing his father, did suggest that there are ways for someone to live off the grid. Is Paul’s decaying body trapped inside a crevasse somewhere the police search parties were able to go thanks to recent dangerous amounts of rain? Was Paul having an affair with an art grad student at their school? How can she reconcile her loss when new, potentially damning information comes out about this man she had already felt increasingly disconnected from?

These questions and more swirl around Annie J. Howell and Lisa Robinson’s latest indie drama, Claire In Motion. It is a quiet, contemplative piece about grief and peeling away layers of the people you think you know best. It slowly reveals the cracks in Claire and Paul’s marriage, but also its secret strengths. It shows who’s really with her as she tumbles down a despair spiral. She learns that she’s not a perfect, angelic protagonist in her own life, which is an important thing for any person to realize in order to move forward.

However, despite an entire film’s runtime, it’s still hard to gauge who Clair is as a person. Claire In Motion is a lean 83 minutes, but that should be plenty of time to craft a full arc. It’s one thing to make the point -- and the movie does -- that it is impossible to know everything about even your closest family members. It is something else entirely to leave the central character as confused as she was at the film’s start. It’s unclear whether Claire has achieved a lasting sense of herself by the end. For a movie about self discovery, everything hinges on that ending, and in this case, it simply isn’t there.

Brandt internalizes her character’s feelings to a degree not seen in her television work (she also appeared on The Michael J. Fox Show as a far more gregarious person than she plays here). Her choices to retreat deeper and deeper into her character every time she finds out something dreary and new about her husband and the search for him. She wonders to herself, How could I not have known that my husband, an ornithology professor, had a secret art hobby with a younger woman who appears to have an especially strong connection to him? She doesn’t reckon with how little she knew about her husband while he was still in the picture -- these revelations appear more as expository plot information than like emotional wrecking balls.

The film suffers from its rather standard indie film style, with a muted color palette of blues and greens and grays adding a dreary, gauzy, depressive look to everything. While Howell and Robinson, with cinematography by Andreas Burgess, show the wilderness into which Paul disappeared as a cold, uninviting place, they struggle to show Claire’s isolation, which is ostensibly the entire point of the film. The handheld camerawork remains at a comfortable medium distance from her during most moments, never pulling back to show how far away she is from the other people in her life. It creates a sense of aimless flatness and avoids visual contrast. She remains emotionally distant but rarely is that reflected in the filmmaking, which generally stays on the path of docu-realism, save for a couple of dreams. This is almost certainly an intentional choice, but it does not come together in a satisfying way.

Alas, Claire In Motion struggles to remain true to its character by stifling her learning process. The movie is too timid with its final moments to leave the audience with a lasting impression any stronger than a shrug.

Directors: Annie J. Howell, Lisa Robinson
Writers: Annie J. Howell, Lisa Robinson
Starring: Betsy Brandt, Chris Beetem, Zev Haworth, Anna Margaret Hollyman, Sakina Jaffrey
Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

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