LA Film Fest 2013
By Don Simpson | June 18, 2013
Directors: T. Arthur Cottam, Karl Jacob
Writers: T. Arthur Cottam (story), Karl Jacob (story), Larry Mitchell (additional material), Jennifer Prediger (additional material), Kate Lyn Sheil (additional material), Gabrielle Penabaz (additional material)
Starring: Karl Jacob, Kate Lyn Sheil, Larry Mitchell, Jennifer Prediger, Madison Meyer, Zach Wilder, Sophia Takal
Recovering from yet another failed relationship, Dylan (Karl Jacob) retreats back to his rural Minnesota hometown for a family reunion. In cinema and literature, an urban protagonist often returns to their rural hometown out of necessity, and they do so with apprehension and fear. These characters are stereotypical patronizing urban elitists, who are eventually forced to learn that the town they left behind is not all that bad. In the case of Pollywogs, however, Dylan has returned home to reboot his life, to get back on track again. While he may not be able to work in a lucrative career here, this quaint Minnesota lake community serves as a magical respite from his not-so-happy adult life.
Upon arrival, idyllic memories of Sarah — Dylan’s first love at age ten — rush straight to his head; then, as fate would have it, Sarah (Kate Lyn Sheil) appears at Dylan’s family reunion. They have not seen each other for 18 years, yet they both have held onto idealized fantasies about what it would be like to reunite. That is a heck of a lot of pressure for two single people who may or may not be wanting to fall back in love.
Dylan and Sarah form a cute foursome with Dylan’s cousin Julie (Jennifer Prediger) and her husband Bo (Larry Mitchell), which temporarily eases the romantic pressure. Luckily, they have plenty of booze and weed to calm their nerves and a sauna to steam things up. The drastic juxtaposition of sweating in the hot sauna and shivering in the frigid lake seems like a perfect metaphor for the fluctuating hot and cold feelings between Dylan and Sarah.
They are obviously confused and who can blame them? They were once so close, but that was so long ago. Dylan and Sarah barely know each other any more. Eighteen years have passed; Dylan is now a full-fledged New Yorker, while Sarah seems temporarily content with taking care of her ailing grandmother in Minnesota. As their pasts begin to inform their present, Dylan finds himself desperately pawing at Sarah because he is the type of person who anxiously jumps from one relationship to the next; but Sarah immediately regrets reciprocating his affections and begins to cower away. Having once been forced by her parents into living on a Branch Davidian commune in Colorado, Sarah is wary of doing anything that she does not want to do. David may be primed to jump off the [literal and figurative] cliff, but Sarah pauses and eventually chickens out.
Co-directors Karl Jacob and T. Arthur Cottam approached this project with story points, then developed the characters and dialogue during a six month rehearsal process. The result is a foursome of fully realized characters whose actions are all backed up by motivations. That is not to say that the script is saturated with expository dialogue, because whenever characters are interrogated about their feelings or past, it is done so with the utmost level of naturalism.
The emotional honesty of Pollywogs is much too powerful for this story not to be rooted in some sense of reality. While we might not all have romantic crushes from age ten to fondly look back upon, most of us have some sort of idealized notion from our past that we would like to somehow reinstate into our present lives. The problem is that our ten year old selves are hopefully nothing like our fully-matured selves, so something that enraptured us back then will probably not have the same effect on us now. That is why the resolution of Pollywogs is so important. Jacob and Cottam could have very easily chosen to go with an overtly saccharine Hollywood ending, but they opt to conclude the film in a manner much more true to real life.