Tuesday 30 September 2014

Eveline (2014)

Director: Travis Mills
Stars: Stacie Stocker, Maria Patti, Susan Rienzo, Dillard Taylor and Jesse Michael-Geronimo Valencia
By week twelve, Travis Mills was getting into his stride and feeling confident. 'Every week I feel us getting better at telling these stories,' he noted in the webseries episode shot alongside this. It's understandable, as he'd cleared some notable obstacles in previous weeks and found this one easy running. 'We got done in one day what I had scheduled for two,' he explained. Then again, this was a relatively simple film, with a tiny crew and a cast that wasn't much bigger; only three locations, none of which were outdoors; and a source story that tries to do a lot with very little, much like many Running Wild short films. It's the next in James Joyce's Dubliners and it has to do with a young lady who wants out of the life she has and into one that's different in every way: exotic, romantic and alive. Her ticket to this new life, literally, is a sailor who has 'fallen on his feet in Buenos Ayres'. He wants her to be his wife and he has a house ready for her to move into. Of course, this is a Joyce story, so pessimism ensues.

It's easy to see Eveline as yet another of Joyce's short stories that has a huge build but no payoff and it's easy to leave it empty and unfulfilled. However, there's a real truth here that I've witnessed myself often and I've personally gone through what Eveline finds that she can't. Everything in the story exists to lead up to her decision and it's the sum of it that makes the difference rather than any one piece. Eveline has a miserable life, one she dearly wants to leave behind, but that miserable life is all she knows. In the end, it'll always be better the devil you know even if the grass isn't as green, or some other mangled pair of proverbs. There are a lot of them that speak to this situation, because it's such a common one. I grew up in England, where I thankfully wasn't miserable like Eveline, but I left my family, country and life to move to another continent and get married. Ten years on, I haven't once regretted my decision, however much I miss the food, but I know many others who dream of doing the same thing but absolutely never will.

Mills's adaptation to the screen is an anorexic one indeed. I was surprised to find that it ran six minutes, as it feels like half that. Much of Joyce's story is built of memories and to adapt it faithfully would require a much more substantial shoot than was viable. I like what Mills brought in to replace them, a miserable pair of women from Eveline's work moaning about how she's leaving and talking down her chances. I'm familiar with bleating women like this (of both sexes) because I've had to listen to conversations just like this one while I was fixing their computers and they couldn't work in the meantime. They're the sort who are happy being unhappy and the best way to do that is to be jealous about someone else who might do what they know they never will. Maria Patti and Susan Rienzo are frustrating to watch because I've seen this so often, but they do it well. Unfortunately, the flipside of ditching all those memories is that Stacie Stocker has to find a way for Eveline to explain everything she's leaving with facial expressions.
And that's frankly impossible, so she's up against it from moment one. She's a really odd choice for this role and I wonder why Michael Hanelin cast her as Eveline. For a start, she's a long way from nineteen, however good she looks, so the whole dynamic of a young woman wondering if she can really leave the only home she's known is completely lost. This Eveline has a whole lot more experience behind her than Joyce's Eveline, so her decision is completely different. Perhaps that's why Mills ended his story a little sooner than Joyce ended his. Stocker's also a very strong woman, which makes this part a tough one for her to sell. The scene where she summons up the strength to leave her father behind in their RV without making his breakfast first is exactly what she does best, but most of her part calls for weakness instead, whether it's through fear of her father or fear of the unknown. With a lot more screen time, I'm sure she could nail the part, but she doesn't have that luxury and it really shows.

While Dillard Taylor is a much more natural casting choice and he does very well with his few moments on screen, Jesse Michael-Geronimo Valencia has an even tougher task than Stocker. While Joyce had his Eveline fall for a sailor who's back in his home country for a holiday and wants her to sail away with him, Mills's contemporary version has an internet romance that leads to her driving out to Sky Harbor. It's the right update, but we only hear the object of Eveline's affections through a computer screen as we watch her face and that's a really tough set up to generate shared charisma. In the end, Valencia merely has to settle for matching Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio's record in my mind as the actor with the most syllables in their name. I'm unsure as to what Mills could have done with this story, as a faithful adaptation would have been ten minutes of narrated montage leading up to a brief and unsatisfying ending. He tries for a better film than that but only manages to give us the bones, not the flesh.

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