Magic in Taos
Off the Map should put Taos on the moviemaking map. Filmed in that picturesque New Mexico area, this magical movie evokes the same feeling I had while watching two of my favorite classic films, To Kill a Mockingbird and Shane. All three movies, alive with a sense of place, feature youngsters who reach out and touch your heart as they react to the bewildering adult world around them.
In Off the Map, 12-year old Bo Groden (Valentina de Angelis) tries to make the best of things – even though her father Charley (Sam Elliott) suffers severe depression and her mother Arlene (Joan Allen) does her gardening in the nude. The Grodens live hand-to-mouth -- hunting and raising their own food, making their own clothes, and so forth. The precocious Bo obtains a few luxuries by writing letters of complaint to company executives, who then send her various products such as cupcakes and chewing gum. She also passes the time going fishing with family friend George (J.K. Simmons) and by fantasizing about future careers.
Everything changes when IRS man William Gibbs (Jim True-Frost) comes to audit the Grodens. Bo develops a crush on William and his briefcase; William falls for Arlene; and Charley meets someone with more reasons to be depressed than he has. Thanks to Campbell Scott, making his directorial debut here, Off the Map is an old-fashioned movie that takes its time depicting human relationships. Long, fluid scenes replace those frenzied cutaway shots so popular with most of today’s filmmakers. As a result, each character became important to me, and I cared deeply about what happened to the Groden family as well as to their two friends.
Performances of great beauty enhance this unique movie. If newcomer de Angelis doesn’t end up as a big star, I’ll be completely surprised. With her expressive face and body language, she’s a natural. Allen (The Contender), playing against type, is the perfect earth-mother. Both True-Frost (Affliction) and Simmons (the psychiatrist in television’s "Law and Order") provide poignant comedy relief. But it’s Elliott (We Were Soldiers) who amazed me the most. I’ve always believed Elliott’s deep, gravelly voice was the key to his acting appeal, but in Off the Map he speaks very little until well into the film, yet he’s still mesmerizing -- sorrowful looks, tears and all.
No wonder Campbell Scott won the 2003 Taos Talking Picture Land Grant Award for this humanistic film. Hopefully, that honor will be the first of many for Off the Map.
(Released by Holedigger Films/Manhattan Pictures International and rated "PG-13" for nudity and thematic elements.)