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The search for a better gig

-A A +A
By Kelly LeVan

4.5 kernelsCollege English majors could write endless theses about how the term “limbo” applies to director John Sayles’ 1999 independent film.The aptly titled “Limbo” centers on the story of a beaten-down singer, her sorrowful boyfriend and her miserable daughter, but the camera sneaks into the mired lives of other residents of their small Alaskan fishing town as well.There’s no money, no cannery, no fishing boat, no father. Everyone knows the same pain: that of exhausted longing, of endlessly weaning oneself off expired optimism.Nevertheless, the movie doesn’t suck the viewer into its morass. The filmmakers’ inventiveness, the actors’ incredibly sensitive portrayals and the omnipresent Alaska-ness of the film – the sense that pioneering must go on – bring faith and beauty into a demoralized cinematic world.Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio plays Donna De Angelo, who claims to have sung in 36 states and Puerto Rico. She’s old enough, by her own standards, to recognize that her lifestyle suits her. She’s tried other occupations. They make her feel like a failure, whereas singing in bars – even for inattentive crowds and very little money – brings her back to life. Offstage, she flattens like a slashed tire.Donna’s daughter Noelle (Vanessa Martinez), however, has no saving stage. She dwindles with every room the pair rents above the next bar, blaming her mother for nearly everything, especially for not finding a stable relationship – for offering men the same commitment she gives a gig.Noelle droops through her high school hallways, hiding in flannel and silence. She writes well, but acts ashamed. Outside of school, she works as a waitress, barely noticing her customers or coworkers, with the exception of kind, thoughtful, emotionally stranded Joe Gastineau (David Strathairn).Unlike Noelle, Joe used to have something. The ocean served as his stage and catching fish was “the thing itself,” he says – not like working in a cannery or selling T-shirts, where you remain removed from what you do. Because of an accident where two of his passengers drowned, Joe hasn’t been on a boat in 25 years.“Limbo” is not a tragedy, despite the large part of the plot I’m keeping to myself, because these characters each find a way to find that alive-feeling through each other. They connect with the world, dejected though it may be, and they commit to it, whatever it may bring. To put it another way, they refuse to stay in limbo. I say it’s not a tragedy, but “Limbo” is not a cheerful movie, either. It doesn’t tie itself up gift-like by the end. It doesn’t let you watch it lightly.While it is definitely entertaining, it also doesn’t talk down to its audience, or appeal to the only easy, popcorn-craving part of a moviegoer’s mind. This movie will stay with you long after the taste of salt and butter tiptoes off your lips.