The Frontier, another Kickstarter success story, is an independent film worth your attention.
Tennessee (Coleman Kelly) is a bearded, soft spoken ranch hand, clearly content with his lot in life. His stolid existence is disrupted, however, when he receives a deep, poetic letter from his father, apologizing for his “brittle humanity.” A father wants to see his son before it’s too late, all the while hoping that wherever he is, he’s home. It’s the kind of letter you can’t ignore, even/especially when their relationship is estranged.
Then we meet his gregarious, monologue-ing Professor father, Sean. Plied with whiskey, Sean records what he terms his last lecture (nay, lesson), a sermon on technology and connection. Is it invigorating us or sedating us? Is our relationship with technology putting us “in motion without emotion”? It’s the first of many meditative speeches that Sean and The Frontier gives, and while Sean speaks eloquently on the subject (though it’s nothing we haven’t philosophized about before), it’s clear he knows nothing about technology, requiring an assistant to even use a computer.
Sean’s woken up by a beautiful, young woman named Nina (a vibrant, radiant Anastassia Sendyk). It’s clear Sean is taken with her, even though he’s much too old. It’s unclear how they know each other (a former student? His personal trainer?), but Sean offers her a job as his editor for a book he’s putting together. She refuses at first, but all it takes is one frustrating conversation with her boyfriend, and then he’s her ex, and Nina arrives on Sean’s doorstep, homeless and ready to work. As Sean moves her in, Tennessee arrives.
It’s so painfully awkward, rank with tension, and so real. Neither know how to communicate to the other without arguing, or drudging up the past, but it’s clear Sean is deeply happy and grateful that Tennessee has come home, empty since his mother died. Tennessee simply sees Nina and thinks his father is up to the same tricks, and avoids their work by rebuilding the fence out back (I wish I was the kind of man who fixed things when brooding).
For awhile, The Frontier is less a movie than a series of poetic soliloquies, but for the most part, I was taken with writer-director Matt Rabinowitz and co-writer Carlos Colunga’s meditations on life, nodding at his sermons on the importance of failing, and how fear controls us, all within the playground of this intimate, almost claustrophobic scenario between Sean, Tennessee and Nina.
During one speech, Sean theorizes that “every day, every moment is a new frontier,” but this film mostly delves into a frontier as old as man: the relationship between a father and son, and the ability to heal, forgive, forget, love. Nina acts, unhappily, as the mediator, and an unlikely/uncomfortable cornerstone to what could be considered a love triangle, but thankfully it never goes there.
Once the minimalist/essential ingredients are laid out in the opening minutes, you know what’s going to happen. We’ve seen this dynamic between father and son before (they’re too alike, the son dreads becoming the father, etc.), but it’s no less compelling, thanks to the great Max Gail (Barney Miller) and the brooding Coleman Kelly. Gail has been acting since 1971, and this is Coleman’s first role ever, mirroring the contrast between their characters when they first meet. Nina, as lost, confused and frightened as the father and son, needs direction and human connection just as much as Sean and Tennessee do.
I love movies that seek to say something about the human condition, which say even more about the filmmakers involved, that give their characters meaning and bearing, because I’m searching for the same thing, endlessly, tirelessly in my life, and feel comforted that others feel the same way, even if it’s on screen. The Frontier is one of those movies. At the end of the film, Nina admits, “I don’t know where I’m going, but I know where I wanna end up,” a sentiment that rings profoundly true to those in my 20-something generation.
The Frontier opens in New York on September 12th and in Los Angeles on September 19th. For more information, check out the film’s website.