When Wendy and Lucy placed atop the charts on Film Comment’s 2008 Poll, I was surprised to hear most laudatory comments containing the phrase “nascent filmmaker.” Not that Kelly Reichardt is unworthy of such praise, but just two years ago she already made good on her promising talent. It seemed as if many of these cinephiles had forgotten that Reichardt already bloomed—particularly with the 2006 release of her first feature in 7 years, Old Joy (New Directors/New Films ’06). It may not have the prescience of Wendy and Lucy’s vision of a troubled economy, but Old Joy is a sublime observation on failed fraternity that is without the creaky narrative devices that detracted from the gracefulness of Wendy and Lucy.
Striking many truthful chords in tiny moments, Old Joy is an insightful meditation on near-middle-age malaise. On the surface, the story is driven by a hiking trip taken by two reunited pals as they traverse the lush, green woods of Portland and vent their inarticulate thoughts over campfires and harmless firearms. Mark (Daniel London) is a hopelessly stable married thirtysomething on the brink of fatherhood while Kurt (Will Oldham) is a wayward soul on the brink of stoner-oblivion. The interaction between these former best buddies is appropriately uncomfortable, as a trip that was meant to be a vacation from anxiety only puts into perspective the angst of aging.
Old Joy is emotionally charged in the most delicately nuanced way possible; the true emotions perpetually bubble under the surface of stilted silences and banal chatter. Reichardt’s camera captures these characters through facial expressions and pauses, not overexplicit dialogue. Most impressive is Reichardt’s acumen in deconstructing the idea of masculinity, and man’s alienation from nature. Its title and presentation are richly ambiguous, but Old Joy was one of 2006’s best films due to what is easily apparent: the painfully honest depiction of expired friendship and the disillusionment with nostalgia.
Nick McCarthy also writes for The L Magazine.