Documentary filmmaker Sarah Goodman brings her non-fiction sensibility to the realm of make-believe.
By Jorge Ignacio Castillo
THE PLOT: In the spirit of John Cassavettes –if considerably more gentle- Porch Stories chronicles a day in the life of three households in Little Portugal, Toronto, during a hot summer weekend. The ancillary tale focuses on Emma (Laura Barrett), a former musician in the process of moving out. Emma is engaged to Stefan, a caring if aloof individual who is not quite in the same wavelength as her.
Emma seems resigned to the idea of marriage until a former flame materializes outside her porch. The interloper is Gabriel (José Miguel Contreras), one of those aimless, easygoing drifters who coast on their counterculture stance but have little else to offer. In little time Emma finds herself torn, oblivious that there could be something calculated about Gabriel’s sudden resurgence.
Across the street, a bickering Portuguese couple sees their marriage disintegrate as a never-discussed indiscretion comes back to haunt them. Meanwhile, the ditzy neighbour next door must decide between the boyfriend she doesn’t care for and a suitor who may be too much of a nerd to have a relationship with him.
CRITIQUE: An unassuming yet biting portrait of city life, Porch Stories succeeds in many areas more expensive projects fail miserably: Builds a cohesive universe, the dialogue flows naturally and features properly developed leads.
Far from an affectation, the black-and-white cinematography keeps the audience focused on the story and hides any production design shortcomings (very noticeable in low-budget productions). While the cast is peppered with newcomers, the acting is strong, probably because nobody is stretching beyond their area of confidence.
The open ending feels more like unwillingness to commit than as artistic decision. At 73 minutes, Porch Stories could have used further development, particularly after making us care for the characters, not a small feat.
· Besides the three main stories, we get to hear snippets of conversations taking place outside the porch. They are all compelling. It’s a nice little detail that makes the outcome richer.
· Great casting work across the field.
· The levels of hipsterism on display can be off-putting (the concept of “organic sausages” is practically an oxymoron).
· The Gabriel character is immensely unlikeable, even though Goodman clearly wants the audience to root for him.
RATING (CANADIAN CURVE): ***1/2
Porch Stories is playing Thursday 25th at 6.45 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto.