Deragh Campbell (left) and Kim Taylor share a quiet moment in I Used To Be Darker.
I USED TO BE DARKER (Matthew Porterfield). 90 minutes. Opens Friday (May 9). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNN
Writer/director Matthew Porterfield's third feature peruses the dynamics of a splintering family. A Baltimore couple, both musicians, undertake a painful separation exacerbated by professional resentments. Their distraught daughter cuts ties with her mother, and an Irish niece, who is expecting, makes an unexpected visit.
Through it all, the camera is unimposing, the light sourced from the surroundings, and the naturalistic performances convey a sense of warmth and quietude. Porterfield's craft is superb, his sense of place authoritative and inviting.
But I Used to Be Darker dissipates when it swerves into high drama and plot development. There's little story, yet too much exposition. The absence of scoring signals the intention of avoiding easy sentimentality, yet the frequent use of onscreen musical performance, replete with on-the-nose lyrics, has the unfortunate effect of overstating themes and emotions already implied.
The exception is an early scene where two young women attend a gig in which a lean, fearsome quartet charge through a smouldering staccato rock number.
Otherwise, the finest moments are subtle, atmospheric, seemingly incidental: a drunken swim, a casual snoop around a house when no one's home, a scene in which a young woman casually breaks into a passage from Hamlet.
Such moments transport us someplace familiar yet experienced anew, while the drama itself just feels familiar.