Two Saturdays ago, I went to see Amity at the San Francisco Film Society's Cinema By the Bay series. It screened at the Viz.
Amity starring Greg Cala & Michael Uimari; directed by Alejandro Adams; (2012)
Alejandro Adams is a well regarded Bay Area director. I know he has an association with Cinequest. Not having seen any of his films, I was curious to see one. Before the screening, I read a post by Adams on the SFFS blog. Nominally about Amity, the post becomes a bit of a confessional as Adams shares details about his life. I thought the post a little odd but if a director could be so honest in what was ostensibly a marketing opportunity, it boded well for the film. During the Q&A after the film, I was reminded of this passage from Adams' post.
I don't know how my producer feels about the scene, whether she's egging me on or rolling her eyes. We don't talk much. We're divorcing, slowly, just passing the three-year mark. We're in the middle of a custody battle that looks like the climactic shootout of The Wild Bunch but in much slower motion. Three years, Gatling guns still tearing through flesh. I could make it sound less dramatic, but sprinkling potpourri on a pile of dog shit can only do so much.
Before the film, my initial reaction was "Three years is a long time to get a divorce." After the film...well I'll get to that later.
Amity is the story of Greg (Greg Cala), a divorced father of a girl graduating high school. Receiving graduation photos from his daughter, Greg decides to fly to the city where his daughter lives and surprise her by renting a limousine for her graduation night. His expectation is that she will want to spend her graduation night with him as they cruise the city in the limo. He has no right to this expectation as it appears that the two are one step from estranged. In hindsight, the photos were probably sent to him out of politeness. The first part of the film establishes that Greg is essentially a jerk; the type of jerk who is constantly talking to hide his insecurities, thinks he is funnier than others do and is barely in control of his deep-seated frustrations and sense of impotence.
After being disabused of any notion that his daughter wants to spend her graduation night with him, Greg decides to cruise the town in the limo with Michael (Michael Uimari), the driver. The scene where Greg absolves his daughter over the phone is one of the few glimpses the audience has of Greg laid emotionally bare. There is a second instance later in the film which serves as the emotional climax. Michael is uniquely suited to deal with Greg as he was a counselor in the Army. As the two men drive aimlessly around town, Greg attempts to bond with Michael who has a stoic demeanor.
Eventually and without any setup scene, Greg is able to get five women into his limo. This is the 26 minute scene referred to in Adams' blog post. As they drink alcohol (the exception being Michael), Greg and the women begin to share parts of their emotional selves with each other. The women are dressed for a night on the town so I wondered how they ended up in the back of limo with a stranger and his limo driver but that's not important. The women (and to lesser extent Greg) become increasingly drunk and reveal intimate details of their lives which they would not otherwise share. Greg continues his aging fratboy swagger until a pivotal moment when he reveals the pain associated with his daughter's rejection. The reaction is silence until it is interrupted by laughter from Marya (Marya Murphy), one of the five women. This enrages Greg and the threeway dialogue between Greg, Michael and Marya serve as the dramatic crescendo of film.
Cala delivers a powerful performance of a pitiful man while Uimari's restrained performance serves most as a sounding board for Greg's inappropriate and vulnerable comments. Murphy is memorable in the small but key role as, what I considered, Greg's female equivalent. Watching the 26 minute scene, I thought it was like Greg looking in the mirror when speaking with Marya. They both put up defensive barriers which are fortified with alcohol. Greg, at an especially low point, lowers his guard and shares part of himself to only to be laughed at derisively. I could easily imagine Greg doing the same in the past.
The synopsis for the film stated "Amity unflinchingly presents a version of masculinity that is deeply insecure, sadistic and ultimately powerless." That sums up the film nicely. As the credits rolled, I felt like I had been punched in the gut. Although I'm nothing like Greg, there were a few moments where I empathized with him more than I felt comfortable with. So I did something unusual. I stuck around for the Q&A. The film started at 9:30 PM so it didn't end until nearly 11. I was anxious to get home but the film combined with Adams' "inside baseball" post portended something beyond the typical Q&A. Usually, Q&A sessions are dominated by some ass in the audience who seems more interested in sermonizing than asking questions. I find Q&A's boring for the most part.
As the cast members spoke about their thoughts and experiences in making the film, Murphy stated she was also the producer which made for a busy shoot. It took a moment for me to put two and two together. Did she just say she was the producer? The same producer Adams is divorcing?
As I am pondering this possibility (and wishing I had the courage to ask about their connection during the Q&A), Adams said something to the effect that he was worried he would turn out like Greg. At that point, my mind started spinning with the implications. The two characters whom I considered two sides of the same coin are portrayed by the director and producer of the film who are also husband and wife and getting divorced. There was a scene in the film, which established that Greg's daughter is Class of 2009. 2012 minus the 3 years which they've been getting divorced equals 2009. Were they separated during the filming? Even if they weren't, it's likely their relationship was strained. How much of the characterizations were autobiographical? Adams could hide behind Cala but why would Murphy agree to play the character if there was any hint that it was intended to showcase her negative qualities?
When I got home, I looked on IMDB and indeed, Murphy's states she is married (and separated) from Adams and was the producer of all of Adam's film. Perhaps Adams post served its marketing purposes better than I initially gave him credit for. Amity is a cuttingly poignant film in its own right but armed with passing knowledge of Adams & Murphy, the film is elevated to an uncomfortably intimate glimpse into their lives which fits perfectly with the subject matter and tone of the film. Whatever issues exist between Adams & Murphy, if Amity is indicative of their collaboration, I'm saddened that they likely won't be making film together anymore.