Indy Film Fest: My Good Man’s Gone
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“My Good Man’s Gone” is an evocative piece that is less about getting somewhere narrative-wise than it is assembling a group of interesting characters and letting them bounce off each other.
This approach mirrors the two main characters, Joni and Wes Carver, two twentysomethings from Los Angeles who travel to rural Arkansas to tidy up affairs after their father has passed away. Both self-involved sorts with a slew of hurts and hang-ups, they’ve been estranged from their dad for some time.
They probably didn’t even know where he was living or what he was doing. (Answers: Story, Arkansas; working as a big-rig truck driver in between devouring books at a local diner.)
So this trip is a journey into his past, finding out what Lloyd Carver has been up to the last few years. It also forces them to confront their own stalled lives, take a few risks and open up emotionally.
Cheryl Nichols plays Joni, a bitter paralegal who bounces around in relationships. The death of her father actually precipitates the breakup with her current boyfriend, Neal, since she had previously lied about him dying to get out of meeting his parents. She’s acted as Wes’ big sis and de facto mother for so long, Joni has begun to resent the role, and behaves more as a bully than parental figure.
If Joni is all hard edges, then Wes is just a formless lump. As played by Rick Dacey, he’s a 28-year-old stockboy at Trader’s Joe who has tried a hundred things in life — training as an EMT, male model, surf teacher — without anything sticking. Not only hasn’t he launched, he’s doing everything he can to steer clear of the launch pad.
They arrive planning to stay two days — just long enough to clear out dad’s ramshackle homestead and sell his truck. But humanity intrudes. Wes reaches out to Twyla (an emotive Deanna Mustard), the waitress / co-owner of that diner where he hung out so much. The two apparently had a close friendship and it was she who found his body after he slipped in the shower. Expecting something tawdry, Wes and Joni instead discover a heartfelt soul of pure goodness.
Almost immediately, the deputy sheriff who brought them to town, Sully (Robert Baker), starts making eyes at Joni. He’s a gruff, good-looking ex-jock type — coulda made the NFL if it weren’t for that blindside tackle, his friends assure — and his dad’s the sheriff, which makes him the heir-apparent. Joni, and we, take one look at him and think we know all there is to know about Sully. But he has hidden motives and dimensions beyond the small-town cop guise.
The film is written and directed by Nick Citton, his first turn in the director’s chair on a feature film, and it’s a strong debut. He’s got a fine eye for the Arkansas backdrops and a nuanced hand with getting naturalistic performances out of his cast. More so when you consider many of the minor characters are played by non-actors. (Some even employ their real names.)
The story takes place during the same time as Decoration Day, a wonderful Southern tradition in which the townsfolk clean up the local cemeteries and put flowers on the graves. It reputedly started when some sisters found the body of a wayward Confederate soldier and gave him a proper burial.
Lloyd Carver was also a lost soul who needed a resting place. This is the tale of his children coming to the same place and finding a home — perhaps not the actual locale, but a place inside.