Big Significant Things
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It’s not often that I’ll be watching an indie film, point to a guy or gal onscreen and think, “That is a star.” But I did have that reaction to Harry Lloyd in “Big Significant Things.”
It wasn’t until I looked him up that I realized I had seen Lloyd before, as Viserys, the vain and cruel boy-king in “Game of Thrones.” He’s a Brit, but pulls off a surprisingly convincing American accent as Craig, a yuppie driving aimlessly around the South looking for kitschy roadside attractions.
With his lean, handsome face and quizzical expressions, Lloyd projects a vivid portrait of intelligent anxiety. Craig is a cool guy who works very, very hard at appearing to be a cool guy.
A tad manipulative and needy, he’s the sort of fellow who’s constantly calling his friends on the phone or starting conversations with strangers — not out of a genuine sense of fellowship, but because we sense he can’t stand to be alone with himself.
Craig has a good speech prepared about his strange journey. In looking for the big stuff in life, we often overlook the little things that end up having a bigger impact on us. So rather than going to see the Gateway Arch in St. Louis or something else grandiose, he’s actually mapped out a trip built around things like the “World’s Biggest Frying Pan” or tallest chair.
There is subterfuge behind his seemingly benign intentions. Craig is about to move to San Francisco with his girlfriend, Allison (Elisabeth Gray, only a voice on the phone). They’ve gotten new jobs, are planning to buy a house together, and it’s pretty clear that marriage, kids and the end of youthful independence will follow not long behind.
Craig is secretly terrified, and is spending a week tooling around the South in his Volvo to delay the inevitable. (I mention his car because it’s illustrative. An upwardly mobile dude in his 20s who chooses boxy security for his transportation is desperately short on vim.)
However, he’s told Allison he’s actually on a business trip with some colleagues. In reality, he wrapped up his job a week ago. He’s steering all alone, hunting for something to listen to on the radio — a call-in dedication/confessional show for romantics is a favorite — and running away, even if he has nowhere to run.
An early scene is instructive: Absorbing the rhythms and stories of the country music stations he can’t escape, Craig espies a man dipping tobacco at a gas station. Impulsively, he buys a tin and starts to load up on chaw, howling in time to the cowboy ballads on the radio. He will come to regret his indulgence.
Here is a man without a strong sense of self, who hopes to quickly replicate a persona before his life runs away from him.
He makes a lot of connections, most of them fleeting. But in Gulfport, Miss., he runs into a trio of young people at a bar, including easygoing redneck Grant (Travis Koop) and his wild partying bartender/girlfriend Grace (Sylvia Grace Crim), who seems to have a hazy grasp on the whole fidelity thing.
Most enigmatic is Ella (Krista Kosonen), a woman from Finland who warbles a tune onstage and seems to be just as lost in her spiritual and geographical wanderings as Craig. There’s a strong pull between them, and Craig lingers in Gulfport for a few days, buying a rocking chair and making up excuses to stick around.
Writer/director Bryan Reisberg, making his feature film debut, isn’t concerned so much with narrative momentum as establishing a strong sense of place and person. The people we glimpse on screen, even those for just a minute or two, are resonant and authentic.
Binding it all together is Lloyd, who bravely explores the inner world of a guy who really doesn’t have much going on in there. If it’s possible to draw a detailed portrait of a man as seen through the reflection of a reflection, then here it is.