AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL 2010
By Dave Campbell | November 3, 2010
Director: John Doyle
Writer: Horton Foote
Starring: Colin Firth, Ellen Burstyn, Patricia Clarkson, Amber Tamblyn, Orlando Bloom, Andrew McCarthy
Main Street follows the “intersecting” lives of several people in the fading rural town of Durham, North Carolina. As the now elderly heir to a once thriving tobacco empire, Georgiana Carr (Ellen Burstyn) lives in the historic downtown house that she’s always called home. The industrial and economic decay of the town has finally caught up to Georgiana. With the help of her niece Willa (Patricia Clarkson), Georgiana must make the hard decision to rent out all of the old tobacco warehouses to prospective businesses, or sell the house her father built so she can pay her bills.
At the same time, the youth of the crumbling town yearn to leave for the opportunity and excitement of distant big cities. Harris (Orlando Bloom), is a local cop who is trying to win back his ex-girlfriend Mary (Amber Tamblyn), by going to night-school to become a lawyer, while Mary (who is a secretary to a lawyer in nearby Raleigh) is secretly dating her older/married lawyer boss Howard (Andrew McCarthy).
Old Georgiana Carr once an heir to a fortune, is now under the same financial hardships as the neighbors in her community and sadly decides to sell the house she has always lived in. But when a stranger from Texas named Gus Leroy (Colin Firth) comes to town with an offer to rent one of Georgina’s warehouses and the promise of a new business venture that will turn things around, the residents and city planners are intrigued to hear more. As they embrace the newcomer, he becomes involved in their professional and personal lives in a way none of them expected, especially after they discover that Leroy’s business could put them all in danger.
Main Street is the final produced work of treasured playwright/screenwriter Horton Foote, who died on March 4, 2009, ten days shy of his 93rd birthday. Foote is best known for writing the classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, which landed him the Academy Award for Best Screenplay in 1962. To Kill a Mockingbird was one of the most memorable film experiences I had as a child and continues to be one of my favorites to this day. However, Main Street is one of the biggest film disasters I’ve ever witnessed that included such award winning talent. The blame for this can’t all be placed on the elderly writings of Mr. Foote, because this was also director John Doyle’s feature debut. Mostly known for his theatre work, Doyle directs Main Street with a lazy sensibility that only made matters worse for the already tired story that lacked an eventful plot.
Colin Firth’s involvement in Main Street was the general reason that I wanted to catch this film. Firth has proven to be one of the finest actors in the business. He usually thrives in dramatic films that are driven by character relationships, but Main Street throws a curve at that streak of success. Not only did this story not carry enough weight for an actor of Firth’s talent, but his Texan accent was way off the mark. Add in Orlando Bloom’s troubled North Carolina accent, and the already suffering film loses any chance of redeeming itself with a standout performance.
So much of Main Street suggested the idea of drama, rather than drama existing on screen. The importance of the events unfolding (including the “climax”) in the characters lives isn’t really felt by the audience, because it’s mostly implied or just completely absent. The majority of the scenes in the film are also so isolated to the short list of faces we meet, that we are never really allowed to absorb the scope or mood of the community that supports the characters. The message of Main Street is also very confusing and difficult to process. The political, economical and generational issues that weave through the duration of the film never find a cohesion or melody, and end up playing out more like an elderly man’s disjointed rant about what’s wrong with America today. What happened to the good ol’ days?