Much like David Lynch (<i>Blue Velvet</i>) and Todd Haynes(<i>Safe</i>) on screen, and Sam Shepard (<i>Buried Child</i>) on stage, writer-director Eric Lea, in his feature debut, creates a distinctive universe peopled with eccentric characters whom you know exist solely (and wholly) in the creator’s mind. Lea’s is a world woven with ambiguous lines of sensuality and threat that other times intersect and sometimes veer off on odd paths toward loneliness and dissipation.
With a big nod to cinematographer Wayne Kennan, whose deeply saturated color palette and fluid framing contribute immeasurably to the realization of Lea’s vision, one must first and foremost acknowledge a cast that distinguishes itself in illuminating this story of betrayal and isolated lives. In the title role, David Morse gives the performance of his career. George may or may not be “slow.” He’s definitely not dumb, but he can be guilelessly stupid, blithely honest, and piercingly blunt. Living in a town of indeterminate size but palpable bleakness, George cleans at a bar where some of the regulars are not above taking advantage of his gullibility. His birthday has always been his lucky day, however, and this time is no exception. A trip to Reno gives him the money to get ahead on the mortgage for a big house that he is forever fixing up and allows him to start his own cleaning business.
Tired of being lonely, George is drawn to Angela, a young woman clerking in a clothing store who has very little tolerance for adversity and is desperate to escape her hellish mother (the redoubtable Grace Zabriskie). Nina Siemaszko, in an incisively subtle portrayal of Angela, is the perfect foil for Morse. When she moves in with George, the film becomes an intriguing blend of Chandleresque mystery, humor, and abject sadness. The distinction of <i>George B.</i> is that this 1997 creation manages to be both classic and hip, as a movie and art.
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