SXSW FILM 2011
By Don Simpson | March 14, 2011
Directors: Annie J. Howell, Lisa Robinson
Writers: Annie J. Howell, Lisa Robinson
Starring: Anna Margaret Hollyman, André Holland, Mary Beth Peil, Sarah Rafferty, Susan Kelechi Watson
Sarah Sparks (Anna Margaret Hollyman) loves the small, beautifully moving parts of technology. She takes a pregnancy test and discovers that she is pregnant, however she is significantly more interested in the quality of the disposable pregnancy test than the baby in her womb. Even when it comes time to have her first ultrasound, Sarah is fascinated by the realistic quality of the image rather than the fact that the image is her baby. Sarah realizes that something is wrong with her preference for technology over her own baby, and she is fairly certain that her estranged mother is to blame.
The baby daddy, Leon (André Holland), is incredibly grounded and supportive of Sarah, even when Sarah’s sister Emily (Sarah Rafferty) convinces her to visit Los Angeles for a baby shower with a bunch of mothers Sarah doesn’t even know. Leon knows from the get-go that it is a bad idea, but Sarah will need to discover that on her own. Sarah’s entire visit with her sister’s family is uncomfortable, but the baby shower quickly escalates matters to unbearable levels with the increasingly loud chorus of screaming kids and complaining mothers.
From Emily’s house, Sarah drives her rental van to her father’s (Richard Hoag) house. This is the man who turned Sarah on to technology in the first place, but now that he has retired it is becoming apparent that he is having a difficult time keeping up with the times. His dilemma when Sarah arrives: a Skype malfunction. Like Sarah, he too has a warped prioritization of things. He Skypes daily with a Brazilian love interest, but they have never talked on the phone, not even when his Skype was down…because they do not exist on the phone plane yet.
Soon, Sarah is on the road to the Arizona desert to have coffee with her mother (Mary Beth Peil) who is currently living “off the grid”; the other option was to hand write a letter (too analog, too retro) since at the time she did not know that her mom is able to send/receive faxes. Along the route to her mother’s, Sarah’s GPS goes haywire and she winds up in Las Vegas, where Leon’s sister (Susan Kelechi Watson) is attending massage school. Leon’s sister discovers that Sarah’s animal spirit is a lizard with a light bulb head (sounds like a Robyn Hitchcock song) — reflecting just how deeply technology has been ingrained into Sarah’s inner-most being. When Sarah eventually arrives at her mother’s, she encounters a semi-primal existence (featuring concepts like meditation, vows of silence, and a labyrinth); but luckily a baby monitor (a gift from the baby shower) helps Sarah break through to her mother. If it was not for the crutch of technology, Sarah may have never confronted her mother.
Co-writer-directors Annie J. Howell & Lisa Robinson opt for an offbeat yet profoundly thoughtful approach in telling Sarah’s coming-of-parenthood story in the post-modern age of technology. Small, Beautifully Moving Parts discusses Sarah’s trials and tribulations in dealing with the existence of a baby in her womb while also coming to terms with her own motherless upbringing. Sarah knows that this baby will represent significant changes in her life and she is incredibly curious about how technology can fit into the equation. Sarah does not want to be anything like her mother and it becomes incredibly obvious that her mother’s negligence will provide Sarah with a relentless drive to do the complete opposite of her mother. I have a feeling that Sarah is going to be a great mother.
The secret to this relatively simple story is Hollyman’s portrayal of Sarah. I know a lot of people who will read the first paragraph of this review (or even the film’s published synopsis) and immediately come to the conclusion that Sarah is a horrible person. These people will say: “Who would dare to care more about technology than their own child?” On paper, I agree; but it is very difficult not to feel sympathetic towards Hollyman’s Sarah. Hollyman molds the quirky and eccentric version of Sarah from the script into a multi-dimensional human being and suddenly all of Sarah’s idiosyncrasies make sense… She is not a bad person after all.