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  • Empire Builder | Review

    By | October 2, 2012

    Director: Kris Swanberg

    Writers: Kris Swanberg, Kate Johnston

    Starring: Kate Lyn Sheil, Joe Swanberg, Jude Swanberg, Bill Ross IV, Caitlin Stainken, Kristin Davis, Samantha Newman

    Jenny (Kate Lyn Sheil) is a young stay-at-home mother who has essentially abandoned any career aspirations in order to take care of her baby (Jude Swanberg); she even tries to rationalize — albeit quite half-heartedly — this decision to her friends. Jenny’s husband (Joe Swanberg) brings home the proverbial bacon, and in turn he seems to expect Jenny to take care of everything else. He is a controlling husband, but his methods are fairly subtle to the cinematic eye. Okay, well, we should give the guy some credit — he does break up the baby’s food into digestible chunks (after criticizing Jenny for not doing so) and he even gives the baby a bath.

    Whether it is out of resentment, anger or sheer boredom, Jenny seems totally uninterested in her husband anymore, and the feeling appears to be mutual. Jenny’s life is focused solely on the baby, while her husband only seems to care about work. For all intents and purposes, theirs has developed into a sexless marriage; there is no sense of intimacy or affection for each other, they are merely going through the motions.

    It makes a lot of sense that Jenny would want to get away from it all; so, with baby in hand, she hops on Amtrak’s Empire Builder passenger train from Chicago to visit a primitive cabin in Montana that she inherited. It is important to note that Jenny owns the property, not her husband. In other words, Jenny takes the Empire Builder train to do some empire-building of her own. Just as countries are prone to do, Jenny seeks to utilize her privately-owned property in an effort to gain some leverage and power. In Jenny’s case, this quaint little Montana homestead is a symbol of freedom; but, unfortunately, her husband is due to meet her there in seven days.

    So while a fine young handyman named Kyle (Bill Ross IV) takes care of some much needed exterior repairs, it is Jenny’s appointed duty to make the interior all homey and nice for her hubby. Despite the seclusion and emptiness of the house, Jenny seems much less bored here than in their Chicago high-rise. She eases right in to her new back-to-basics lifestyle in a house with no electricity or running water. She approaches her newly discovered freedom with eyes wide open, and it is not without purpose that she experiences everything alongside her baby. It is as if Jenny is seeing the world for the very first time while taking her first baby steps to becoming a fully-grown person.

    And then there is Kyle… Let’s just say that Kyle swings a mighty ax and Jenny certainly notices. He is the strong, silent type and — despite Jenny’s helpless flirting — we never quite know how he feels about her. Heck, we don’t even know how Jenny feels about him. Is she just falling right back into another trapped relationship? Or is Kyle just an attractive boy toy who she likes to look at?

    Rating: 8/10

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