Review by Dawn Davis
Parker’s Anchor (2016). United States, 110 minutes. Directed by Marc Hampson. Featuring: Jennica Schwartzman, Amy Argyle, Ryan Schwartzman, and Chris Marquette.
Parker’s Anchor is a well-intentioned film about starting over after great loss. Jennica and Ryan Schwartzman are married actors and producers who wrote, produced, and acted in this film through their production company, Purpose Pictures. In their Kickstarter story, they stated their desire to depict the reality of unique and blended families in our culture, exploring how the typical family isn’t so typical anymore, and how that can be a great gift. The story is a familiar one: after learning that she is unable to conceive a child upon the fall-out of her marriage, Krystal (Jennica Schwartzman) leaves her big-city life to return to her hometown in Arkansas, where she gradually picks up the pieces of her shattered dreams and re-imagines what life will look like for her without those dreams. The film had its premiere at Geena Davis’ Bentonville Film Festival.
Marc Hampson, who is Jennica Schwartzman’s brother, directed the film. The two regularly work together and it’s great to see a family developing projects they are passionate about as a team. Parker’s Anchor is beautiful to look at, with cinematography by Paul Olson. While the filmmakers stated their film would be made on a micro-budget and raised a portion of that (a little over $25,000) through their Kickstarter campaign, the project in no way looks like a small budget feature. It’s expertly lit with the glossy sheen of a studio production. Close attention was paid to production design by Laura Hicky, with the film having a warm and comforting feel. The look feels filled out in a way that many low-budget projects don’t. The cast is impeccably clothed in a hip wardrobe, and small-town Arkansas looks like the kind of place you’d want to escape to for a while. Omnipresent is the kind of camera movement that’s often expensive to accomplish, such as dolly and overhead crane shots, and there’s an exquisite water sequence that could easily have cost a fortune but must have been achieved through more creative means. I’d love to know how they did it.
The film also benefits from a solid and professional cast of actors. As the film’s protagonist, Jennica Schwartzman has an easy, down-to-earth way about her. She is admirably supported by Amy Argyle, as her compassionate best friend, and by her real-life husband Ryan Schwartzman, playing a comic relief role. I was especially taken with actors Penny Johnson Jerald and Michael Beach, who play Argyle’s mother, Laurie, and Laurie’s boyfriend, Clinton. These two actors have a gravitas that translates well beyond the screen and I wished I could see more of them. The producers’ commitment to diversity is commendable, especially when setting their story in a small southern town. Casting Director Elizabeth Barnes has cast two of my favorite TV shows — GLOW and The Comeback — and has populated this indie film with an able group of artists.
In spite of the professionalism of its visual aspects, Parker’s Anchor’s script suffers from some structural issues that are reinforced by the direction, sound design, and editing. With a running time of just under two hours, the film drags, partly because the plot isn’t as complex as it could be.
I’m a fan of films with a slow burn, as long as the moments are fleshed out in ways that serve to illuminate the theme or characters. Most moments in Parker’s Anchor, though, continue past the point of illumination. One example is a scene where two characters are in a hospital room with a third in the waiting room. The film cuts back and forth for several minutes between the waiting-room character looking depressed, the woman in the hospital room urging her husband to check on her friend in the waiting room, and the husband weighing himself on the scale and telling his wife to wait for the doctor. This sequence could have been told in under a minute but instead is allowed to play out until it’s hard for the audience to stay engaged because no new information is being introduced.
The script’s pacing is exacerbated by Hampson’s directing, in particular when he relies on an over-abundance of slow-motion shots. Hampson allows scenes to run on, and some of the comedic moments would be more effective with quicker and shorter timing in the editing.
Purpose Pictures has a clear vision for the kinds of stories they want to tell and they have every means at their disposal to do it well. There’s a subtle faith-based element here that isn’t overbearing, and their films can be very appealing to a certain population who is looking for good stories that align with their values. If the Schwartzmans fine-tune elements like their screenwriting and pacing, they could be the rare indie producers capable of turning out films that can compete on any level. I look forward to seeing how their craft develops in projects to come.
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