Director: Enid Zentelis
Bottled Up, the second feature from writer/director Enid Zentelis, is a noble piece of independent filmmaking, determined to explore oft-examined dramatic situations from a new perspective. The situations on display here, at their most basic, are drug addiction and environmentalism. Fay (Melissa Leo) is a quiet small business owner living in a quiet town in the Hudson River Valley, burdened with a pill-addicted daughter named Sylvie (the superb Marin Ireland) and a relatively uninteresting life.
Enter Becket (Josh Hamilton), a determined, naive environmentalist looking for a room to rent. Luckily enough, Fay has a room in her house and a plan in her head to help Sylvie both fall in love and continue getting her fix. Right off the bat, the relationship between Fay and Sylvie is a complicated one, made up of equal parts love and guilt. Leo turns in a nice, understated performance as an unabashed enabler, blinded by her wrong-headed version of maternal instinct. Fay wants the best for Sylvie, without having to hurt her. This comes to a head in one particularly powerful scene in which Fay is forced to stir Sylvie from another drug overdose, something she responds to with a disturbing, yet darkly funny, amount of normalcy. Sylvie uses her mother’s misplaced kindness, and the manipulation is hard to watch. Ireland offers up the bravest performance in the film, willing to build a character that seems to be fighting against every urge to gain sympathy points.
Hamilton’s overly-good guy is the primary source of comic relief, the criminally under-appreciated character actor meeting Leo’s internal performance with something more manic and outward. Unfortunately, his own environmental subplot — when we meet Becket he is fighting against nearly every type of environmental pollution without much of a focus on any — is introduced then mostly overshadowed by the mother-daughter-roommate dynamic that’s built. A budding romance between Fay and Becket thankfully allows Hamilton to add some depth and doubt to his whimsically upbeat character while Leo gets to inject some pep into Fay’s step.
And while the romantic tangent of the film — not unlike the environmental subplot — never fully takes shape, it’s a relatively small criticism thanks to the fully-formed characters Zentelis and her actors have created. Above all else, Bottled Up explores three very human people and how they will get past all of the lies they are telling themselves. Zentelis chooses not to judge those on screen, but rather try and understand them.
It’s this honesty of character that forgives the film a few narrative dead ends and botched comedic beats. We care about these people, and that’s of the utmost importance.
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