BENEATH THE HARVEST SKY
Melodrama for the sake of melodrama. It’s an easy and deceiving pit to fall into, and no melodramas are easier to mine than the plight of the poor. Already you’ve got the audience’s sympathies, and it becomes easy to convince yourself that your film is good for them, and serving a good purpose.
It’s a tricky balance. There is an unspoken test between the character and the audience, we must feel the character has earned our sympathies, not demand it from us. Directors Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly attempt to do just that in their Beneath the Harvest Sky, but somewhere along the way the drama sours, and their attempts to manipulate become far too obvious.
Casper is a n’er-do-well living in a small farming town in Maine. He has a drug smuggler father, Clayton, who sends pills across the Canadian border. He’s failing at school, getting into fights, and the only thing he has going for him is his tight friendship with Dominic, a straight-laced dreamer, who yearns to buy a car and get out of this town.
Over the course of this harvest summer, events occur that will force them into adulthood and test the strengths of their friendship.
The cast is great, with Emory Cohen and Callan McAuliffe doing amazing work in the leads; there’s no fault in anyone’s performance. Unfortunately the boys have very little depth for us to connect with. There’s not much going on behind their yearns to get out of the city and Cohen and McAuliffe waste time by spinning two thirds of the film with tired summer-fling and pregnancy plots.
In fact the only time the film seems to be moving forward is in the growing subplot of a police investigation into Clayton’s business. It only connects to the leads very late into the picture; making you wish it had arrived earlier.
As a result the film struggles to catch up in its final moments. There’s a heated conversation about friendship and loyalty that comes out of no where, a dumb villain who smuggles drugs when we know he should be suspicious, and a crazy act of god rain storm forces Casper into a “coming-of-age,” because it seems nothing else in the plot is going to.
Depictions of the struggles of the lower classes are admirable, but they are not examinations of poverty in and of themselves. They must be connected to deeper and complex issues, otherwise you’ve just created struggling characters whose sole purpose is to make us cry.