Genial and peculiar in measured doses, Off the Map has reverence for life in the old desert in a way that Henry David Thoreau would admire.
There is an off-center charming quality to Campbell Scott’s film which has finally gotten studio distribution through it may have limited appeal.
Joan Allen and Sam Elliott are paired as wife and husband Arlene and Charley Groden who subsist on far less than an average income in an enchanting Taos, New Mexico.
Their lifestyle with nary any disruptions and environmental adversity suits Charley’s bout with depression. He looks like a zombie and because he cries a lot he says he needs lots of water.
Scott’s mostly predictable but warm tact takes hold from Valentina d’Angelis’ Bo, the bright, isolated child who needs a credit card and writes businesses to get free stuff. She looks to get out of a lifestyle that is a better fit for her hippy parents. The intellect and charm is hard not to appreciate as the ocean means a lot to her.
The screenplay ambles like a Western with an IRS agent (Jim True-Frost) instead of a cowboy affecting these folks. This guy will suffer a bee sting and spend much more time than expected with the Grodens who haven’t filed a tax return in seven years. His life will take a turn for the better, not just from seeing a nude Arlene.
Writer Joan Ackrman connects wisely into Scott’s vision of a bound family undergoing change that knows how to brace its path with wit and redemption. The performers delight in the comfort Scott provides for them with Allen and Elliott adding personality in an off-kilter, casual way. She’s in control with no makeup necessary and his mental retreat gradually takes hold.
D’Angelis lends a preppie, endearing complexion to Bo with her older self played by Amy Brenneman (“Judging Amy”). Off the Map feels good in large part due to the importance of realizing a sense of place as an idyllic, remote area is beautifully photographed by Juan-Luis Anchia.
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