Spring Forward

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Spring Forward

Throughout his astonishingly prolific and accomplished career, with appearances in more than 100 films in 30 years, Ned Beatty has proven to be the consummate character actor, mostly filling out modest supporting roles that relegate him to the background. If nothing else, writer-director Tom Gilroy's Spring Forward rewards Beatty with a triumphant curtain call, pushing him to stage center in a conversation piece that values his ability to slip into character without a trace of actorly affect. Paired in an ongoing discussion with the excellent Liev Schreiber, Beatty lends much-needed gravity to Gilroy's precious and overly theatrical conceit, validating the script's flimsy class politics with bracing warmth and humanity. An even cross between Eric Rohmer's exterior dialogue and Ken Loach's proletariat values, Spring Forward follows the budding friendship of two Parks & Recreation workers as the seasons change in a small Connecticut town. Just released from an 18-month prison sentence for armed robbery, Schreiber worries that his poor judgment will get the better of him again. But after a tough first day, he settles into an easy rapport with Beatty, a receptive and understanding father figure on the verge of retirement. As they go about their work painting fences, tending gardens, and picking up trash, they discuss their thoughts and philosophies in engrossing detail, interrupted occasionally by third parties. The blessing and curse of Gilroy's plotless, episodic structure is that none of the third parties appear more than once, but some are better off disappearing, such as the generic homeless ne'er-do-well (Ian Hart) who lives under a park gazebo, or the hysterical mother whose life-or-death crisis belongs in another movie. But others make such a strong impression that it's a shame they can't stick around, especially Campbell Scott as an unctuous, patronizing yuppie and Frasier's Peri Gilpin as a single woman who charms Schreiber with her refreshing no-nonsense attitude. Spring Forward could stand a little conflict to go with its quiet dignity, but the two leads access strong emotions and create full-bodied characters, even in the absence of real drama.

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