Having won acclaim for his performance in John Sayles' 1987 film 'Matewan', Will Oldham's screen acting career was sporadic while he staked out his claim as one of America's most unique singer-songwriters. But he returned to cinemas in 2005's 'Junebug' and he's back in indiedom again with 'Old Joy', a sometimes touching and sometimes unfulfilling look at male friendship and identity.
With his wife Tanya (Smith) expecting their first child, Mark (London) gets a call from old friend Kurt (Oldham) with an invite to a weekend in the woods and a visit to a hot spring. While he seems reluctant to go without Tanya's blessing, Mark knows that home life must be put aside for a brief time while he builds bridges with Kurt. During the course of their time together Mark and Kurt will offer up some truths, stumble awkwardly around each other in the way some friendships do and ponder their places in the world.
Beautifully photographed, it's easy to drift away and dream in 'Old Joy's lush greenery, but the feeling persists that this is really a film that's stuck between being a short and a feature. If you're a fan of long silences and scenes where very little happens you'll enjoy it but those expecting character arcs, resolutions and chest-beating declarations of brotherhood would be better served with a night of sports movies.
Reichardt manages to work in statements about pollution and the current political and economic climate in the US, and while everything about 'Old Joy' hums 'arthouse', the director ensures there's nothing here too pretentious or chin-stroking. Much of this credit, of course, must be shared with her fine stars Oldham and London - two actors who are far more engaging and likeable than this script allows them to be. And that, is 'Old Joy's biggest failing: not knowing how to make the most of what it has to offer.
If you're looking for an assessment of masculinity in the 21st Century that's as good as the next one.