A review of “Off the Map” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for mature sexual themes and language

Run Time: 1 hour, 51

 

 

Arlene Groden (Joan Allen) has a problem.  Totally isolated on her folksy New Mexico homestead, Arlene watches helplessly as her larger-than-life husband Charley (Sam Elliott) slowly succumbs to a crippling depression. What’s a wife and mother to do?

Grab a hoe and attack her vegetable garden in the nude, that’s what. Allen takes Map by storm, projecting a powerful strength and grace as an iconoclastic soul under fire.

Up front and center is Arlene’s precocious pre-teener Bo (Valentina de Angelis), a true circa 1974 original.  Bo is excessively bright and bursting with enthusiastic anticipation for the world beyond her insular bohemian existence. 

Enter I.R.S. agent William Gibbs (Jim True-Frost) who literally stumbles onto the Groden’s property with a whopping bill for back income taxes.  The Grodens are living beyond the pale and haven’t filed for seven years.

While Bo takes matters into her own hands by ordering the family’s first credit card and crafting a plan for escaping her home-schooled existence, Arlene ponders Charley’s descent into catatonia and a very bleak future.

Director Campbell Scott plays it slow and easy, a tad too ruminative for those who prefer snappier pacing.  Charley’s disabling anxiety worsens as Gibbs spins tales of his own battles with dysphoria.  That tenuous bond is all Gibbs needs to set for a while, foregoing his professional audit and discovering hidden talents of his own (not to mention a mighty powerful penchant for Arlene).

Map is more quirky ensemble piece than literal narrative.  Each player brings a fresh spirit to the mix, borne of impatience, spirituality or a fervent desire to live life to the fullest.  The Land of Enchantment is awash in muted colors and tranquil beauty and the tight scripting engages where need be.