SXSW Film: The Surprisingly Romantic 'See Girl Run' : Monkey See See Girl Run nicely tweaks the existing convention of the woman who wants to get her old boyfriend back.
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SXSW Film: The Surprisingly Romantic 'See Girl Run'

Adam Scott plays a man who works with lobsters and dreams of his old girlfriend in See Girl Run. South By Southwest hide caption

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South By Southwest

One of the pleasures of seeing a lot of films is that you learn how differently two writers can approach the same material. For anyone who saw Diablo Cody's Young Adult, the much smaller See Girl Run will have a familiar one-sentence pitch: "A woman unhappy with her boring life decides maybe going home and rediscovering her high school boyfriend is the answer." But See Girl Run, written and directed by Nate Meyer, has a different emphasis and a totally different tone, despite sharing the basic notion that this is kind of a sad thing to do, more than a whimsical one.

Here, the woman is Emmie (Robin Tunney), who is in a stagnating marriage to Graham (Josh Hamilton).

[Screenwriters, take note: An early scene in which Emmie and Graham don't have sex is very short, very simple, and communicates with great economy how much, and how, they are broken as a couple.]

What Graham doesn't know is that Emmie's high-school boyfriend Jason (Adam Scott) has been in touch with her a lot since they drifted off to different futures, and that the two have shared what they both call a "What if?" feeling that's never really gone away. He doesn't have a particularly bang-up life, either: he's a struggling artist who works at a lobster joint and still has to borrow money from his father to get by. He's in a dragging-on, going-nowhere relationship with a young woman from work, but he still thinks of Emmie. And when they discover that their musings about each other are mutual, she heads to her Maine hometown without telling her husband.

It's hard for a film like this to get good support at a festival, I think, because it's not as relentlessly bleak and doesn't feel as daring and different to some people as the more high-concept experimental art pieces. But what's lovely about See Girl Run is that it's a twist on the genre of the lost-love romance, and tweaking a genre can be just as challenging as going completely into undiscovered territory.

Very often, in romantic stories, love solves a bunch of problems all at once: you get a better job, an improved relationship with your family, your self-image changes, and if you had a previously existing relationship, you're much better off without it. Here, Emmie and Jason aren't reaching out to each other merely out of affection, but also out of unhappiness, and the film is straightforward about that. It always takes seriously both the depth of their feelings and how fraught it is to seek out another person at a time when you feel like you need rescue. It's also straightforward about the fact that if they rediscover this relationship, it's not going to solve all their problems, and it's going to create new ones.

The supporting cast is excellent, particularly Jeremy Strong as Emmie's troubled brother and William Sadler as her father. Sadler gives, at one point, a lovely speech about the nature of love and marriage that starts off a little inscrutable, but as the analogy develops, it makes more and more sense. Hamilton's role as the husband left behind is small but crucial.

During Meyer's Q&A, he talked about the fact that these characters come off very differently to different people: some find Jason heroic, some find him pathetic. They undoubtedly see Emmie the same way. He also defended the film as fundamentally embracing a romantic ideal, despite the fact that all the relationships in it are troubled.

There's a certain way that American independent film tends to see romance, just much as there's a certain way American commercial film tends to see it. There are times when it seems like commercial film believes too much in happy endings, but independent film believes too much in horrible ones. See Girl Run sort of wiggles into the middle, avoiding both the romantic idealism of what major studios release and the romantic nihilism of a thousand dysfunctional love-you-hate-you handheld documents of codependency.