AFI Film Festival Review: ‘Sollers Point’ Misses Its Point

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The desire to backslide into damaging behavior has been the subject of many powerful films, big and small. Specifically, independent cinema has been a haven for these hard, yet powerful, personal narratives. “Sollers Point” attempts to mine for drama in the tricky time after one’s incarceration. Unfortunately, the film misses the mark. Rather than conjuring sympathy for our protagonist, the film wallows in his rut. It offers up continuously repeated beats that drive the audience further away from understanding him.

Keith (McCaul Lombardi) emerges from a year of house arrest following a prison sentence with a desire to put his life together. Unable to travel outside of the state, Keith misses his niece’s birthday, putting into perspective the limitations on his freedom. Stuck at home with his disapproving Dad (Jim Belushi), Keith tries to venture out to make money to rebuild his life and gain independence. However, this involves confronting old cohorts who are none too happy with him. As legitimacy looks unobtainable, Keith resorts to talking to old contacts that may brought about his original downfall.

The film employs a seemingly episodic structure as Keith roams from place to place around Baltimore in search of his footing. Many successful indies have taken this strategy, such as Chris Weitz‘s “Grandma,” among others. Yet, while those films build with each section adding further insight to the protagonist, “Sollers Point” stalls at every step. The film becomes an anger-inducing Groundhog Day. Every scene features Keith complaining about how his status as a felon prevents him from getting back on his feet. He then meets with another person from his past to engage in the type of behavior that led to his incarceration. Something goes wrong. Keith laments his lot in life. The cyclical pity party continues. Yet again, our protagonist learns nothing and refuses to grow, change, or acknowledge the decisions he has made.

Perhaps one of the most frustrating vignettes involves Keith picking up Aurora (Maya Martinez), a much younger girl who unwittingly accompanies him to a drug den. Aurora shows no depth or agency as a character while around Keith until rightfully vanishing. Throughout, the movie pairs Keith with a variety of thinly written female parts and never attempts to elevate them. The beleaguered girlfriend who can’t keep her feelings in check, strippers with a heart of gold, and goodly sisters/mothers all feel like stock characters no one even bothered to reheat.

As the frustrating lead character, McCaul Lombardi tries his best to win the audience over. However, his beautiful blue-eyed pout only works for so long as the script actively works against him. Just as the character represses the urge to confront his demons, Lombardi similarly represses any clues or depth that might give us a hint as to why Keith acts the way he does. There are plenty of great films that involve a prickly figure unwilling to change even as the world tries to force change on them (“Young Adult,” “The Wrestler“). However, in both Lombardi and writer/director Matthew Porterfield‘s hands, Keith never resonates as complicated. He instead reads as vaguely non-compliant without any specific drive or reason.

Independent cinema features loads of anti-heroes, big and small. There are many ways to attack the topic of life after incarceration. It’s a topic rife with conflict. Ava DuVernay most recently made an incredible documentary called “The 13th” about the prison industrial complex. However, “Sollers Point” eschews these possible dimensions. Instead, it tells a tale of a low-class man who doesn’t understand how his own personal failings hold him back from a normal life. Let’s hope we soon get a hard-hitting film that properly tackles life after prison and the challenges and intersectional issues wrapped up in that topic.

“Sollers Point” is distributed by Oscilloscope and has no release date yet.

GRADE: (1/2)