Screening only for one weekend at Cinema Center, the new drama Palace is the remarkable feature debut from Taylor University graduate Andrew Paul Davis about the strength of communal bonds among turbulent times.
Shot entirely in Indiana (Grant County, specifically) with a $10,000 budget, the film has a clean and professional look that maintains a grounded aesthetic while also finding the unexpected beauty in its surroundings. With a tapestry of richly realized characters, Davis creates an authentic and vivid portrait of Hoosier life that is rarely seen clearly in either independent or mainstream cinema.
The narrative circulates around numerous locals with whom we spend varying amounts of time, but the story predominantly centers around three central figures.
We first meet Chris (Todd Bruno), an aimless auto mechanic trying to overcome the hang-ups of everyday life by creating a political movement within his community. Then we spend time with Chuck (Joe Martyn Ricke), a lonely retiree who drowns the sorrow of insurmountable medical bills with nightly beer pitchers at his local bar. We’re also introduced to Alexa (Emily Sweet), a music education major at a local college who has trouble finding an audience for her up-and-coming hip-hop trio.
What I appreciated most about Palace is the way that Davis uses his ensemble cast to place characters in settings where we may only see them once, but the possibility of seeing them again is always in play.
For instance, we first meet a character who is rude to Chris at his job. But when that same character is the only person to attend Chris’ political meeting, their relationship is completely recontextualized.
Much like the work of Terrence Malick, Davis lets the trajectory of the story ebb and flow with the feelings and mood of the characters, which can take things into territory that is darker at times and more light-hearted in others.
The screenplay, also written by Davis, investigates the ways that all of these characters with differing backgrounds and circumstances are trying, often desperately, to form connections with one another. Whether it’s Chris posting videos online trying to convey his political affiliations or Chuck sitting down with a table of strangers in a bar to start conversation, there is an inescapable loneliness that permeates most of the film.
Amid this heartbreak, however, there are notes of humor that balance the tone, as can be found in the back-and-forth banter between Chris and his co-worker as they shoot a game of HORSE during sunset.
The use of music, both diegetic and non-diegetic, is varied in terms of the genres that it invokes but this mixture allows for different insights into whichever character is in focus at the moment. Though their musical performance styles couldn’t be more different, both Chuck and Alexa have found comfort in expressing themselves through their music and their passion gives the film an extra layer of soulfulness.
With plenty of heart and compassion at its core, Palace is a bittersweet love letter to rural Indiana from a promising young filmmaker who will no doubt have a prolific career ahead of him.
Also coming to theaters this weekend
Alita: Battle Angel, starring Rosa Salazar and Christoph Waltz, is the latest special effects spectacle from Spy Kids director Robert Rodriguez about a scientist who brings a human cyborg hybrid to life.
Isn’t It Romantic, starring Rebel Wilson and Liam Hemsworth, follows a young woman who is hit in the head and wakes up in a world that mimics the tropes of a PG-13 rated romantic comedy.
Happy Death Day 2U, starring Jessica Rothe and Israel Broussard, revisits the Groundhog Day-esque slasher in which a young girl keeps reliving the same day repeatedly after being killed by a masked assailant.
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