That's the good news.
However, these same quiet moments occasionally work against the film as a story. There are a few moments in which Lewis' still picture seems a bit too static and "too much" of "not much" is taken in by the camera. Some sequences come off as if Lewis and company found a great, picturesque location and decided that it would be a crime not to use every bit they could of the footage shot there. To Lewis' credit, every location is well chosen and each moment does seem to be part of a well thought out plan, but when the film started to feel like a cross between My Life and Extreme Home Makeover, I was ready for the still picture to get moving again.
The above may sound like a slam. It's not. Part of the reason these sequences don't work as well as they might have is that the drama itself (whether spoken or not) does work remarkably well in a real sense and the audience will want to get back to them. The enthralling aspect of Baystate Blues is the human story that Mark and his players tell. It's a story compelling enough to keep me wanting more, even in its least comfortable moments.
Baystate Blues tells the story of a traumatized married couple in Rural USA who have had a hard time relating to each other for the past six months... primarily, but not exclusively, because Allyson Sereboff's Devon was in a life and body shattering car accident six months ago. Of course we also get a good look at her husband Mike (Scott Lewis) who seems to be on a mission to prove what a mismatch he is for the quiet, thoughtful Devon with each dick joke, "fuck" laced diatribe and utterance of the word "cunt". And he makes a lot of those. Often he doesn't know when to quit when he's behind.
While Mike might not be the most sensitive guy in that there Bay State, we also see that Devon herself might not have been the most easy person to live with. Sereboff gives Devon the look of a woman who recently may have been radiant and loaded with sultry smiles. She looks like she might miss those days as much as anyone else around her. The compelling image on the DVD (and press pack) cover of Sereboff, as Devon, in a sexy, yet sad pose, draped in silky lace, but cradling her deeply scarred leg manages to evolve into a moving picture on the screen that speaks about a thousand more words in its deep silence.
The muted action comes to a head on the day that the couple has planned a convalescent party of sorts for Devon. Amigas Alex (Steffi Kammer) and chain smoking Virginia (Sharon Maguire) are scheduled to bring some of the proverbial best medicine to Devon. The chance encounter with an old friend/ flame turned rock star named Wojo (McKey Carpenter) puts other thoughts in Devon's head, however, and the drama is amplified by Virginia's invitation of Jason, an old flame of her own (played by Joe Tuttle).
Interestingly, the expanding cast never manages to bog Baystate Blues down in any significant way, as the characters are surprisingly well fleshed out and complex. It may be a surprise when the viewer begins to care more for Mike as he transcends his more obvious dimensions. Equally, it's noteworthy how some characters reveal surprising nuances to their own personalities that never end up feeling incongruous.
The bare-bones approach that Mark Lewis takes gives Baystate Blues a solid backbone, but it's hard not to notice a missing ligament or two in this overall strong structure. To a degree, Lewis' writing reflects a feeling of personal experience, though that experience is quite obviously (and naturally) from a guy's point of view. Whether the men in the film are portrayed positively or not, they are given a more clear understanding than are the female characters. Sure there is a lot of "macho-babble" coming from the guys (particularly when Mike's at work with Tony Ezzillo's Tony and Ryan Balas' Oliver), but all of the guys come off as honest and quite clear in their emotions and motivations. The women, often shown to have a tendency to rip out a guy's heart and do a Mexican Hat Dance on it are much more mysterious and enigmatic. That's not to say that Lewis writes women badly nor is there any sexism in his intent. In fact, much of this disparity seems to feed into Lewis' point here. The question that pops up repeatedly is "Why?" Mike is still deeply in love with Devon, but he's driven crazy by this person he just doesn't understand anymore. Jason is equally mad about Virginia, but has no idea what the hell happened between them or why he's there that night. Much of this might well be the subconscious result of Mark Lewis wanting to make sense of these things himself. The frustration of the characters is palpable to the viewer.
Luckily the actors here have the skill to convey not only what Lewis has written but also what his characters don't say overtly. A note on the acting here. This is, as I call them, an "Ultra-Indie" and that shows much of the time. However, unlike many out there, Baystate Blues doesn't really suffer in the acting category. Baystate Blues has the feel of a filmed stage play with the actors often seeming to be "acting", but never in a way that would feel out of place on a good stage. This impromptu, skilled rendition doesn't give the viewer the feel of the "fly-on-the-proverbial-wall", but does manage to succeed in telling its story in a way that could make an audience leave a live theatre happy they bought the ticket.
Happy they bought the ticket, but perhaps not "happy" in general. While Baystate Blues has its comical moments (and they work), the film also could scarcely be accused of being "The Feel Good Indie Hit of 2007". Though well done, it's hard not to wonder what the next chapter is or might have been. Right when the drama seemed to be at its penultimate height and the convolescent party becomes cathartic the credits rolled. Again, this might have been Lewis' point, after all, how often is real life successfully resolved as it is in most movies.
Many might agree with that philosophy, many might think this slice of life needed just an inch more to the cut. At the same time, most will be interested in the soft, more thoughtful times, others might think they stretch on too long at the wrong times. However, it's hard to imagine that any thinking person would leave Baystate Blues without appreciating it for its story and the way it's told.
In fact, from a pure storytelling perspective, Baystate Blues exceeds most mainstream films of its kind. Further, though undeniably independent, the film has a good sound-quality to it (even in the quiet moments and especially during the moments when all dialogue is replaced by a strange mandolin interlude), the editing is excellent and the lighting and color work very well. True, this is clearly a digital print, but it's clearly a "clear" digital print, looking at least as good as, say 28 Days Later! Three and One Half Stars out of Five for Baystate Blues. Is it, as its tagline claims, "An Intimate Epic"? That would depend on your definitions. However, the promise offered in that cover photo is certainly fulfilled in the quiet, thoughtful times, whether pleasant or not. That picture says a lot without saying anything. Baystate Blues literally speaks volumes but conveys its best messages when the dialogue stops and the picture is still again.
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