There's a fine line between delicacy and fragility, between a gentle unfolding and a stubbornly slow series of revelations. That line is what keeps Nate Meyer's "See Girl Run," a midlife romantic drama, from succeeding as well as the great cinematography and talented cast would have you hope. Robin Tunney's marriage is foundering in familiarity in New York; Adam Scott's relationship and life are stalled and stuck in the town she left behind, even as he draws elegant and joyous frogs and caricatures. So she comes home, to see her parents and her brother, and he sees her. And remembers how much he used to love her. And she remembers, too. But love is not memory, and love is not hope.
Thematically, "See Girl Run" explores some interesting things that are cropping up more often than not in indie cinema and here at SXSW -- the idea that living in your childhood home makes you a little childish, the suggestion that following your heart's wildest dreams is often not the solution that the world of romance films and pop songs tell us it is.
Scott's illustrator has talent, but not as much success as he'd like, being kept afloat by loans from his dad that will probably never be paid off. Scott thinks his father's been buying his art, which his dad dismisses gruffly: "How many damn drawings of frogs do you think we need?" And Tunney is trying to wrap her head around the idea that while a new romance is like setting out on a joyous voyage with a new partner, marriage is more like day five of a cross-country trip in a too-small car with broken air conditioning where you're forced to work to reach a shared goal without giving up on either the goal or the other person.
There are some other threads in the mix -- Tunney's brother, Jeremy Strong, has a fairly uncinematic case of mild depression, only flaring up when he drunkenly confronts Tunney: "What do you have to be sad about? You got to the big city. You have a life. You got out." And her father, William Sadler, is, as ever, magnetically watchable, trying to comfort his daughter without coddling her, standing by her choices even as she makes mistakes.
Both Tunney and Scott are excellent, but they're like NASCAR drivers with skills and great reflexes put behind the wheel of a car that's either stuck in first or low on fumes. Scott finds the right mix of romantic optimism and foolish naiveté in his romantic illustrator, while Tunney's self-doubt in pursuit of self-assertion comes through every tentative moment. Taking place in a small coastal town, "See Girl Run" is superlatively shot, even though, too often, those moments come as padding between scenes that seem as static as those individual images.
Writer-director Nate Meyer has his heart and his brain in the right place, but the film could have benefited from a little more of a hot-blooded pulse of drama in it to connect its beautiful images and well-tuned performances as part of an actual story that moved, not just as the highlights of one that doesn't. [C-]