Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This month: The A.V. Club atones for its sins of omission, recommending the best movies of the year that we didn’t review.
Director Nathan Silver is drawn to social microcosms on the verge of crisis, often allowing us to tag along with destabilizing interlopers as they learn the lay of the land. Exit Elena concerns a troubled family’s reaction to the arrival of a live-in aide. Soft In The Head follows a homeless young alcoholic as she moves into a shelter. Uncertain Terms, Silver’s most plaintive film to date, is set at Gottlieb’s Home For Girls, where Carla (Cindy Silver) runs an informal refuge for pregnant teenagers with families who are unprepared to handle their predicament. For $500 a month, a sum that barely covers expenses, a girl can hopefully comfort herself under Carla’s empathetic, amusingly eccentric umbrella.
Robbie (David Dahlbom), Carla’s nephew, arrives under the pretense of offering to help his aunt fix up her home, though he’s really evading his wife. Thirtyish, sort of handsome in an unkempt sort of way, Robbie’s just old enough to exude an “older man” pull over the girls. Robbie’s drawn to one of Carla’s boarders, Nina (India Menuez), who emits a sadness and self-containment that resonates with his frustrations. Their chemistry unsurprisingly stirs up tension within the home, and Silver captures the ensuing miscommunication with a fusion of earthy expressionism and fly-on-the-wall vérité that’s reminiscent of Jonathan Demme’s last several films.
Only a few movies into his career, Silver’s already a graceful, confident orchestrator of communities, which he often renders through close-ups where characters reveal their souls in poignant, fleeting glimpses. When Robbie teaches Nina how to drive, for instance, we see her face in a transcendent profile as she’s lit by a streetlamp shining through the driver’s-side door, music playing on the radio. Moments of the girls dancing together for their various birthday parties, trying to be sexy but only inadvertently emphasizing their youthful vulnerability, are informed with a similarly comedic pathos.
Uncertain Terms emphasizes looming, ultimately unfulfilled chaos—it’s about seismic events almost happening, before qualified order is restored, and possibilities are swept back into a figurative lockbox. Silver captures the seemingly insignificant moments that retrospectively reveal themselves, in bits and pieces, to contain the imaginative essences of our lives.
Availability: Uncertain Terms is available on DVD from Amazon, Netflix, or possibly your local video store/library. It’s also currently streaming on Netflix, and can also be rented or purchased through the major digital services.