RUNOFF – Written and Directed by Kimberly Levin – SPOILERS
Netflix describes this film as understated, and that is an understatement. Joanne Kelly turns in a quiet but effective performance as Betty, who is part of a perfectly ordinary American nuclear family living in a small Kentucky farming community.
Betty’s husband Frank (Neal Huff) finds out he has cancer. Her son the artist gets a letter of acceptance to an art school in New York City. The bank threatens to repossess the farm. A pig farmer is told that it might just be cheaper to put the antibiotics in the feed. A dairy farmer is persuaded to ship tainted milk to market. A crop duster sprays poison disturbingly close to a child on a bicycle. Everything that Betty experiences is shown to us casually, as though the events that mold her life are inconsequential bits of scenery flashing by the window of the family’s ancient blue pickup truck. As though it’s something else (entirely unspecified) that is important.
This film might just possibly make you inclined to buy organically grown foods It will definitely make you not want to live in rural Kentucky.
RUNOFF is a bleak film. There are bright spots in the story, but they are fleeting. Betty smokes weed with her son and they go up on the roof to look at the stars. Betty’s friend Paula (the only cheerful person in the movie, played by Darlene Hunt) drops in to let Finley (Alex Shaffer) use her car so he can drive to the city and submit an application for art school. Betty and her husband have a literal (but fully clothed) roll in the hay.
Betty decides she will do anything for her family and agrees (after checking out all other possible sources of money) to dispose of several barrels of toxic waste for a local factory farm. She dumps it in the river one night when no one’s looking. The only casualty of this event is a mentally handicapped fellow who picked that night for a swim downriver from Betty’s dumping site, and even he isn’t fatally injured. There should be a bunch of dead fish somewhere, but they are not shown.
The connecting thread in all this is the blue pickup truck. The relentlessly practical and aesthetically appalling truck functions as a symbol of the bucolic horror the family endures on a daily basis. A lesser writer might have ended this story with an automobile accident, but at the end of Kimberly Levin‘s RUNOFF, Betty just drives her pickup into the credits with a look of acceptance on her face.
Alex Shaffer (Finley) will be Jack in the film THE GRIDDLE HOUSE, which also stars three former Buffy the Vampire Slayer cast members (Amber Benson, Charisma Carpenter, and Clare Kramer). The film follows Jack’s pursuit of his birth mother after he finds out she has been a regular customer at the nearby Griddle House.
Joanne Kelly (Betty) is Brin Madly in CLOSET MONSTER, the story of an aspiring teenage special effects makeup artist named Oscar, who is struggling with both his sexuality and fear of his judgmental father. There is an extremely long-lived hamster of indeterminate gender who talks only to Oscar and is voiced by Isabella Rossellini. CLOSET MONSTER was the Best Canadian Feature Film at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival. It will next be shown at the Marrakech Film Festival (4-12 December).
Neal Huff (Frank) is James in NO LETTING GO, an expansion of the award-winning 2013 short film ILLNESS about a family with a mentally ill child. It had its first U.S. screening at the New York City Mental Health Film Festival on 26 September. Huff will also be Neal in LOVESONG, a film by So Yong Kim in which Sarah (Riley Keough) tries to rekindle an intimate connection with Mindy (Jena Malone) in the days before Mindy’s scheduled wedding. LOVESONG will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2016.
RUNOFF can be streamed on NETFLIX (US).