A North Carolina-set comedy-drama set on a farm starring Amy Ryan and executive produced by Martin Scorsese
Dir. Angus MacLachlan, US. 2017. 80 minutes
The American family farm is in trouble, despite a rousing sentimental mythology. In telling its version of a small corner of that story, Abundant Acreage Available has more than its cumbersome title to worry about. Even in the genre of heartland movies, Angus MacLachlan’s film is a novelty, a dramedy veering toward comedy about a property dispute. Executive produced by Martin Scorsese, it is also a meditation on loss, which mocks the foibles of old age and the coming of death.
All eyes are on Amy Ryan here, who plays the obstinate Tracy, determined not to let go of the family homestead on the death of her father
If there’s an audience out there for this, it might be MacLachlan’s own admirers — those who connected with the clever Junebug (2005), which he scripted, or Goodbye to All That (2014), his directorial debut. It might also resonate with fans of the homespun comic style of Garrison Keillor, the radio bard of rural Minnesota. Outside North America, though, it would seem to have the same chance of attracting an audience as an unripened Carolina turnip.
MacLachlan opens his story with brother and sister Jesse and Tracy (Terry Kinney and Amy Ryan) burying the ashes of their father in a field on their farm. As they mull over whether to stay or sell, they find three ageing men camping in their meadow. These men are from the family who sold their father the farm. Now they want their land back, so they can be buried there, along with their own father’s ashes.
Three eccentric brothers sharing the same tent might be a barrel of laughs for some, and a stroke victim with his libido still in overdrive (Francis Guinan) leads the jokes. The cast seems to have the makings of a North Carolina version of a Martin McDonagh feature – with lots of laughs around an urn of the loved one’s ashes – yet the comedy doesn’t quite measure up.
MacLachlan keeps his story of loss and land close to the ground, and far from politics, yet Terry Kinney, as Jesse, is a born-again Christian whose faith leads him to see God’s hand in improbable places, eroding his powers of judgment. His ardor isn’t as funny or touching as it might be, but it’s still a soft jab toward Bible-beaters in the politically-divided North Carolina.
No surprise, all eyes are on Amy Ryan here, who plays the obstinate Tracy, determined not to let go of the family homestead on the death of her father. No one says too much in this film’s underdeveloped dialogue, yet Ryan’s steely demeanor reflects the jumbled toughness and vulnerability of people dependant on land that isn’t giving them much.
That land, like much else in Abundant Acreage Available, gets short shrift. MacLachan and DoP Andrew Reed give us tight shots of dirt in the hands of Jesse and Tracy as they bury their father’s urn, and we see barren hillsides with the jagged remnants of a corn crop. But we don’t see much more of the land at the core of this saga except for an occasional long view toward the horizon. Perhaps MacLachlan was after a visual vocabulary that was as limited as his film’s dialogue. In doing so, he’s sold his story short. This crop feels like it needed more time to come out of the ground.
Production company: Abundant Productions
International sales: The Gersh Agency firstname.lastname@example.org
Producers: Angus MacLachlan, Kate Churchill
Executive producers: Martin Scorsese, Jeanne Hagerty
Screenplay: Angus MacLachlan
Cinematographer: Andrew Reed
Editor: Michael R. Miller
Production design: Lisa Myers
Music: Jeffrey Dean Foster
Main cast: Amy Ryan, Terry Kinney, Max Gail, Francis Guinan, Steve Coulter