I’ve been looking forward to Old Joy for quite some time, ever since seeing the first trailer. It’s aesthetic, soundtrack, and theme were very appealing. The rave review by one of my favorite critics, Manohla Dargis, helped too. Here’s a taste of what she had to say:
There is a universal aspect to this story about memory and loss, and how we use the past to take refuge from the present. You can’t go home again; sometimes, you can’t even share a bowl of pot the way you once did. Yet if Mark and Kurt’s excursion resembles any number of classic adventures across time and space, the film is also insistently about this specific moment in time and space. Namely, an America in which progressive radio (actually, snippets from Air America) delivers the relentless grind of bad news that Mark can only listen to without comment and with a face locked in worry, a face on which Ms. Reichardt invites us to project the shell shock, despair and hopelessness of everyone else listening in across the country.
You’d do well to read the full-review after seeing the film; even though there’s nothing to “spoil,” it is a film in which interpretation plays a large role, and Dargis offers an excellent one.
I was astounded by Old Joy, even though it was not what I expected. Old Joy is a small film, but no less enjoyable — or profound — as a result. On the contrary, by zoning in on the undercurrents present in the relationship of the two protagonists, Old Joy achieves a great deal. Mark and Kurt are recognizable characters — I would go as far as to claim them as contemporary archetypes — and the strain they feel is immediately felt and identified by the audience. One particular scene, in which Kurt attempts to draw attention to the divide between the two friends, only to have Mark insist that “everything’s fine,” is exquisitely painful.
Old Joy is remarkable in that it not only depicts feelings of strain and sorrow, but embodies them. Every shot, scene, and note (the score was written by Yo La Tengo) is full of slow, precious tenderness. The tone is very fine, and lands the viewer somewhere in the uncharted territory between sadness, expectation, and frustration. Beauty lurks about the film, but in an everyday way we are not accustomed to seeing on screen. Because Old Joy feels so much like life, the feelings and responses it evokes are among the most specific I have ever experienced in a movie theater.