My Effortless Brilliance (2008, Director: Lynn Shelton): Well, although I haven’t seen it, I think it might be impossible to talk about this film without referencing Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy (2006). Both films feature female directors directing an all-male cast, featuring a musician in a lead role, in stories about lost male friendship and set in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. Except that in the case of My Effortless Brilliance, it’s played mostly (but not only) for laughs.
Sean Nelson is the lead singer of the band Harvey Danger, but he seems born for the screen. In the film he plays Eric Lambert Jones, a semi-successful novelist who is doing readings for his third novel. While in rural eastern Washington, he drives four hours out of his way to drop in on his old friend Dylan (Basil Harris). The film begins two years earlier, with Dylan essentially breaking up with Eric, telling him he’s always been a terrible friend. Eric’s attempt to somehow rekindle the friendship doesn’t go smoothly. He discovers that Dylan is working for a local newspaper and is content living in his cabin in the woods. He also has a new best friend, the laconic Jim (Calvin Reeder) who seems happy to hunt and fish and read nothing more literary than Bukowski. Over the weekend, the trio hang out and drink, with the overeducated city slicker Eric trying his best to fit into this setting. With his round face and wild curls, Sean Nelson plays Eric like the overgrown baby he is, self-absorbed and needy. He is a man who lives mostly in his head and who seems allergic to physical labour. Dylan and his new friend Jim are men of action, who wear plaid workshirts and seem to enjoy splitting wood all day. Just as it looks like Eric has overstayed his welcome, the three get into a drunken conversation that feels remarkably like a real drunken conversation. The end result is the sight of the group of them outside in the middle of the night, hunting a cougar, and then the inevitable hangovers on the morning after.
What I liked about the film was its honesty. Men’s friendships can be pretty difficult to portray. We don’t often have heart to heart conversations and talk about our feelings, but we do express them in oblique ways, and My Effortless Brilliance felt extremely real to me. This is probably due to the fact that Sean Nelson and Basil Harris are real-life friends, and that the script was a collaborative effort between the actors and the director. That is, if there actually was a script. The sense of improvisation is so strong and the film so gorgeously shot that you’ll feel like you’re tagging along on Eric’s weekend in the country.