By Don Simpson | July 23, 2013
Director: Olivia Silver
Writer: Olivia Silver
Starring: Ryan Simpkins, John Hawkes, Kendall Toole, Ty Simpkins
Writer-director Olivia Silver’s Arcadia is conveyed reflectively from the perspective of Greta (Ryan Simpkins), a 12-year-old who is being forcibly relocated from New England to California by her dad (John Hawkes). Greta shares the cramped backseat of her dad’s beat up station wagon with her 9-year-old brother, Nat (Ty Simpkins), while her older sister, Caroline (Kendall Toole), rides shotgun and navigates. Despite their dad’s repeated promises of sunshine, horses and swimming pools awaiting them in California, the kids are sad that they had to leave their mom behind; but after six months without a job, their dad just could not turn down a dream job offer, even if it meant relocating his family 3,000 miles across country.
While the kids’ dad promises that their mom will join them soon, Greta grows increasingly suspicious that he is lying to them. Greta overhears her dad engaging in heated arguments while noticing that his everyday demeanor is growing increasingly irritable. He willfully admits that lies are sometimes necessary for the greater good, just as he explains that he will do anything to protect his children. He might seem like a complete jerk at times, but the twinkle in his eyes hints that there is a loving dad hidden beneath his occasionally gruff demeanor.
This road trip may have little effect on Caroline and Nat, but it alters Greta dramatically. For Greta, the ever-changing scenery outside the car window reflects the hormonal changes going on inside of her body. She may obsessively listen to Morrissey, but Greta is still teetering on the precipice of puberty, clinging to a raggedy stuffed rabbit as the last vestige of her childhood innocence. Greta will eventually find herself at a metaphoric cliff, with the choice of plunging into maturity or continuing to cling to her rabbit.
Shot on Super-16 (by cinematographer Eric Lim), Silver’s film is intimately framed with the grainy, warm hue of a home movie; since most of the story takes place within the claustrophobic confines of the station wagon, the visual intimacy makes perfect sense. Sure, they periodically pause at roadside motels, rest stops and fast food joints along the way; but no matter where they go, Greta feels suffocated. She fights to get away from her family (and the camera), if only for a few moments. She needs breathing space, room to grow; but she is trapped, as if her dad is subconsciously attempting to momentarily stunt her growth. He wants Greta to remain a kid for a few more moments — for her to love fast food and not mind sleeping with the television on — but she will continue changing not matter if he is ready for it or not.