After Daniel’s (Ryan Eggold, The Blacklist) parents die in a car accident, his friends reassemble at the summer home to support Daniel before he sells it off. But his friends are struggling with their own stuff, too, like Tom (Beck Bennett, SNL) whose father just fired him and James (Brett Dalton, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) who can’t separate his life on film and outside of it. It’s the way that real life works: it’s funnier, sadder, more dysfunctional, and ultimately, more triumphant, than we’re able to realize.
Initially, I was drawn to the film because of Chris Lowell’s involvement, as co-writer, director, and producer, yes, the same Lowell from Veronica Mars (playing Piz both on television and in the Kickstarter-funded feature-length film), Private Practice, and the under appreciated Enlisted. His charm on screen made me think the film might have its own inflection- and subsequent discovery of the indie’s own Kickstarter campaign proved that he has a knack for drawing people in for a common goal. The film is that goal, now a reality.
Blending a nostalgia that reminded me of another summer house fav, Indian Summer, with the sort of realistic ensemble of humor and barbs of Friends, Beside Still Waters dives into hilarious territory when it comes to the ways that we’re so dysfunctional as friends, oblivious to the way that others are feeling. [And there’s also something terribly, ridiculously funny about the drinking game Whiskey Slaps- like How I Met Your Mother’s Slapsgiving.] But at the same time, it’s also intensely serious, as it wrestles with the grieving process, both of family lost, past wounds freshly revisited, and futures that may never be. And as characters try to figure out who they are in the here and now, married or not, straight or gay, in love… or not.
Lowell’s script seems to be meandering but it’s really lasering in on something, something deeper than a few quick laughs or even a superficial examination of grief. Maybe it’s the origin of the phrase, from Psalm 23 (“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters”), or maybe it’s the way that in the end, the characters seem inclined to gravitate toward… reasonable. Maybe it’s because Lowell’s film says that trying to capture what existed before but is gone isn’t healthy but living life in the here and now? That’s what this life is supposed to be about.