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I was asked to see and review Off the Map by one of my favorite non-astrobrains, Emily True, whose brother, Jim is in the film. Asking me to go see a movie is like asking me to breathe, so I did. And since Off the Map is an interesting offbeat film, it was fun to see it. Off the Map tells the story of an 11-year old girl named Bo (Valentina de Angelis) who is growing up off the grid in New Mexico with her parents (Sam Elliot & Joan Allen). Although Bo yearns to experience the outside world, her life has been quite idyllic until recently when her father became so depressed that he sits and cries all the time. Bo, her mother, and Elliot's best friend (J.K. Simmons) try to coax him out of his depression while continuing their quiet lives in the middle of nowhere. A stranger (Jim True-Frost) appears. He is from the IRS and wants to audit the penniless family. But, as Allen says, New Mexico is a very powerful place and no sooner does True-Frost get a load of a naked Allen communing with a coyote than he is subsumed into life Off the Map. He decides to never return to the IRS and takes up watercolors, producing many pictures of nude Joan Allens and a vast mural of the sky meeting the sea on a roll of wallpaper for Bo's bedroom. Off the Map is narrated by the adult Bo (Amy Brenneman) who returns to New Mexico for a retrospective show of True-Frost's art that includes the wallpaper mural.
Off the Map was originally a play by Joan Ackermann, who adapted it for the screen, and it is very play-like. There are really only the 5 characters and all the action takes place in and around their house in New Mexico. Off the Map is, of course, a classic coming of age story and so we see the action primarily through Bo's eyes both as a child and later as an adult. Bo's life on the cusp of growing up is speeded up by the depression of her father and the arrival of the stranger. Once upset, her life and the lives of those around her will never be the same. Off the Map is a great character study and although its weirdness almost gets to be too much at times, it always veers back on the tracks. The cast is wonderful. De Angelis is making her feature film debut and, even though she has been modeling since she was 5 years old, she gives an amazingly natural performance, that you only see from kids who haven't done this before. This kind of unstudied performance is the antithesis of the talented but already world-weary performances you see from other kids like Dakota Fanning (Man on Fire, War of the Worlds). Sam Elliot and Joan Allen make you wish that they were your parents or maybe that you were married to both of them. They create such a nice relationship between themselves and with their daughter. Allen (age 48) looks great and you get to see all of her, but it's Sam Elliot (age 60) who I am really in love with. He's always great but my favorite Sam Elliot movie will always be Road House, perhaps the best bad movie ever. True-Frost spends most of his time on the stage so he's not a familiar face like J.K. Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson in Spiderman) who is always popping up in movies. But True-Frost has the toughest role in Off the Map. He has to be very weird yet very likeable and he does it very well.
Off the Map was directed by Campbell Scott who is better known as an actor in Indie films (Roger Dodger, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle). He does a very good job with Off the Map and must take some of the credit for de Angelis' great performance. This is, as I said, yet another coming of age story but I always find these stories compelling. It is a bit reminiscent of New Waterford Girl , another quirky film about a young girl who yearns to leave her small town in the middle of nowhere. Off the Map is just showing up in theaters even though it was made two years ago. Go and see it.