Off the Map (2003) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
Off the Map is a "small" character-driven film that made the
festival circuit in 2003 and then fell ... well ... off the map,
unable to get distribution. Critics liked it, but nobody believed in
its marketability. It was
finally resuscitated this year for an arthouse run (10
theaters on opening weekend, 70 theaters at maximum). The people who
doubted its drawing power were correct, because the film never did
many people into the theaters, but those who came and liked it did
not just like it in a polite golf clap way. They loved it; were moved
by it; embraced it, as if it were the last gasp of the ideals so
many of us cherished in the hippie era of the late 60s and early
Joan Allen and Sam Elliott play a couple living off the land, and off the map, doing a Southwest version of the Thoreau thing in 1974, out somewhere in the Land of Enchantment. They make very little money. They live off their own garden, some hunting, and what they can scrounge from trash areas. He's a victim of chronic depression, so his imperturbable laid-back wife is the rock and anchor of the family. They have a precocious child who is telling the story in flashback, but she is living off the map as well, home-schooled by her mom. Most of the world has forgotten them, but unfortunately, the IRS has not, and sends out an agent to track them down, audit them, and get back America's just share of their assorted leavings, refuse, and home-canned veggies. The IRS guy sees Joan Allen gardening in the nude, is stung by a bee, spends a few days delirious, and wakes up determined that he is in love with ol' Joan. More to the point, as Allen points out to him, he is actually in love with the ideals embodied by the family. She's right. He ends up with Stockholm Syndrome, forgets about the tax audit, and wanders around the desert while discovering a talent for painting. He ends up staying with the family for several years.
The film is not without weaknesses. Even though it is generally too long and the pace is too languorous, some plot developments are rushed - like the agent's "love" for Joan Allen despite knowing little about her except that she likes to garden naked. His profession of love made me uncomfortable, which I think the script wanted, but also made me think the IRS guy was a 'tard, which probably wasn't part of the plan. Although the photography is a magnificent evocation of the Great Southwest, Off the Map is an adapted stage play, and has not lost its stagy roots. The characters are sometimes hard to believe, as is their literary faux-poetic dialogue, and the narration can be all-too-precious, typical of a coming-of-age story told from the point of view of a 'tween female. I shifted uneasily in my seat when it got slow, and when it got hokey, and I don't much care for magic realism in general, but ...
and this is an important "but" ...
I also see why some people love it so much. Headlined by excellent actors, it casts a hypnotic spell, draws you into the warmth of its vibe, and if you're not careful, it'll drive you out of the theater to sign up for zen classes and stock up on granola.
I can determine by the IMDb information that Sam Elliott was 59 when he made this film. I think that must be a hypothetical age, loosely based on the average age of his body parts. He appears to have a 79 year old head on a 39 year old body.
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