Blow the Man Down
Written and Directed by Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy
The new film “Blow the Man Down,” which begins streaming on Amazon Prime today, establishes its offbeat credentials in its opening theme music which is shot as an actual male chorus of fishermen singing the title song. This accomplishes a few things quite efficiently: It isn’t just that this isn’t a big budget production (it clearly isn’t) but it establishes the contemporary period in a very specific manner as, instead of the men singing with cigarettes dangling from mouths as might once have been the case, one of the younger men is seen inhaling deeply from a vape pen and producing an enormous and almost obscuring cloud. This is the present but it’s also a small town still dominated by its fishing industry and where the men are routinely absent from the day to day events and decisions and, as we come to discover, the women are pulling the strings.
The story begins at the funeral of one of these women, the mother of Priscilla (Sophie Lowe) and Mary Beth Connelly (Morgan Saylor), who ran the town’s small fish shop. But as her daughters gather in the kitchen with their mother’s peers, they begin to hear that there was more to her than selling fish. It’s an odd moment and perhaps more for our benefit than theirs as it’s hard to imagine these things having never been said before. But then funerals can be like that.
The film focuses on these women, on the two sisters and on their mother’s friends. Priscilla is the daughter who likes Easter Cove, Maine enough to perhaps stay and become one of these older matriarchs herself, whereas Mary Beth already feels like she’s put her life on hold long enough and itches to leave. With the funeral barely over, Mary Beth is out drinking and meets a mans he doesn’t know, itself somewhat unusual in such a small town, but also a little risky as she drives off with him to some unfamiliar location.
And this is where the film takes its “Fargo”-esque turn into a dark, comedic crime story. It’s a lean plot and it’s probably best not to watch the trailer which unveils a little too much and plays more like a “previously on” featurette one might watch before streaming the next season of a show. We also get a return of the fishermen’s chorus, now used as a chapter break. As a device, it doesn’t have the seamlessness of the wandering band many might remember from “Gilmore Girls,” and by the second time you see and hear it, you may find yourself hoping it doesn’t return too many more times.
Much of the attention shifts to three of the older women (played delightfully by June Squibb, Marceline Hugot, Annette O’Toole) who were friends with the deceased and who unveil the town’s seamier side as they attempt to take on the black sheep of their group (the wonderfully cast Margo Martindale) whose bed and breakfast serves more than eggs. Still waters run deep in this coastal town and there’s little these women don’t know, certainly more than the police.
“Blow the Man Down” is a debut writing/directing feature project for Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy and is a promising sign for what we might see from them next in an industry that generally fails to promote female voices and talent. It’s also neat to see a film where almost all of the principle cast are women, especially such talented older women, and where the men are clearly relegated to supporting performances, and not in an artificial way but because it makes sense for the story and setting. However, it’s also worth noting that the entire production team is made up of men – so while I would applaud them for putting together and funding his project, it would be interesting to see what else they might champion if they also had women on the team and this is one of those films that needs eyeballs in order to encourage more productions like this.
It’s not always the easiest film to watch. It’s certainly uncomplicated and profoundly funny at times but you’re consciously aware of it being a film that spent thousands where others spend millions and so it lacks a certain polish. At moments, like the opening funeral scene for example, you get the impression that you’re watching a few professional actors in a room full of locals. It may seem more familiar for festival film watchers than those who simply stumble upon it because they’re quarantined from the multiplex – although this is an approach employed by Clint Eastwood in films like “Gran Torino.” But if your interest is in being told an appealing story, the gloss or lack thereof shouldn’t matter that much.
Perhaps the film’s greater problem is simply that it’s a little short on legs, delivering a few quick punches but not quite able to go the distance. At 90 minutes, and closer to 80 without its credit roll, it feels even shorter. It ends up feeling like a single episode in a quirky anthology series and might have played better had it actually been marginally shorter and tighter. But, that said, if this was a single episode and played first I’d keep watching and I would still recommend it to those who like their content at the offbeat indie end of the scale and it might inspire aspiring filmmakers who will likely see in “Blow the Man Down” a scale of production that they can identify with as well as, importantly, a distribution channel for such content.
I’d like to see what these filmmakers do next – perhaps somebody will dump hundreds of millions of dollars in their laps in the hopes that they might rescue a female driven superhero film, but I’d prefer to see them establish their own style and voice first because, based on this film I’d like them to tell me more of their stories.