*Online Premiere* After the sudden loss of their mother, three suburban siblings struggle to move forward — as witnessed by their dog, Leadbelly. This mumblecore drama from Chicago beautifully captures sibling relationships and grief while never resorting to exaggeration or over-simplification. Directors Anna Nilles and Marco Jake aren’t afraid to linger on boredom or real-time mundanity (introduced with an opening quote from the poet John Berryman, “Life, friends, is boring.”) But the film gives us plenty to chew on, most significantly in its rich characterizations of its three leads. Eli and Caitrin are 16 year-old twins floundering through high school, while their older sister, Riley, is an aspiring actress living in New York.
After the funeral, dad suggests Riley stick around for a while to help ease the transition. She isn’t happy, but ultimately agrees. As she begins her new role as mother figure, she enrolls in a local acting class. Skeptical that a Chicago class could match her New York City training, she’s resentful. Meanwhile, Eli is most often found hanging out with his girlfriend, that is, until Leadbelly the dog goes missing and he pivots all of his energy into finding it. Caitrin begins to slink away from reality, experiencing visions of her past self and haunted by her mother’s death. As a group, their grief isn’t communicated in emotional breakdowns — in fact, they barely talk about their mother. At their age, and considering their stoic temperaments, they aren’t quite sure how to react or express emotion. We feel the mother’s absence, but we also feel life going on without her. And for all its heaviness, there’s an undercurrent of humor running throughout. When Riley tells Eli to cut the grass, he responds, “What’s the point? It’ll just grow back?” And instances of Caitrin lashing out at school, though technically ‘warning signs’, are dryly comedic — she cusses during a class presentation, then pours Coke all over the floor.
All told, it’s an impressive first feature from Nilles and Jake that taps perfectly into the attitudes and personalities of its young characters, never overselling the drama but finding plenty of emotion in unlikely places. (77 minutes). Directed by Anna Nilles and Marco Jake. Starring Annie Brennen, Caitrin Gallagher, and Eli Rubenstein.