MRR Movie Review: Fairhaven

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Set in a small fishing village off the Massachusetts coast, this dramedy film tells the story of three friends who have been reunited for the funeral of Dave's estranged father. The unfortunate occasion requires him to return to the town he abandoned a decade earlier. Written by director Tom O'Brien and actor Chris Messina, both of whom star in the film, with Messina playing the main character.
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MRR Movie Review: "Fairhaven"

-- Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Length: 81 minutes
Release Date: Jan. 11, 2013
Directed by: Tom O'Brien
Genre: Comedy/Drama

The town of Fairhaven-for which this film is named-is a bit misleading judging from its name. There really isn't anything fair about the New England fishing town, which has very little to offer its small group of residents. It also can't be called a haven, because nobody would want to take shelter there unless he or she had to. In fact, lots of people like Dave (Chris Messina) leave as soon as possible because they are bored out of their minds. Those who either like being bored or are too scared to leave end up staying and forming crazy, often complicated relationships with others around them.

The film begins with the death of Dave's dad, which means Dave has to come back to Fairhaven to attend his father's funeral. Dave quickly hooks up with his buddies Jon (Tom O'Brien) and Sam (Rich Sommer) and reveals he almost didn't come, since he wasn't close to his father at all. The two seem glad he came; if anything, because it changes the pace of their usual daily activities. For Sam, that includes picking up his daughter, whom he shares joint custody of with his ex-wife Kate (Sarah Paulson), who may still hold a torch for Dave, whom she dated years before. As it turns out, Dave might still be holding a torch for Kate as well, which serves as one of the central focuses of the film.

Dave plans to drink or smoke his way through his short trip home, altering his mindset so he can deal with his dad's death. In doing so, he makes a lot of bad decisions, not too distant from his life as an impulsive teenager. This doesn't go unnoticed by Jon, who is desperately trying to figure out what he wants out of life. Poor Sam already knows that he wants Kate, but she has already remarried and resettled into the slow pace of life in Fairhaven. The group's confessions paint a picture of three men who used to be the best of friends but now have nothing in common with each other. They have clearly grown apart, but still somehow cling to each other throughout the film, perhaps out of love, but more likely out of habit. It's what they've always done, and since change doesn't come easily in small town America, habits are usually seen as a good thing.

"Fairhaven" manages to expound on boring, everyday life without being mundane in the least. In fact, it can be viewed as a character study of sorts, because each of the main characters is so different from each other. When characters are written so divergently, it is usually to create conflict. In this film, it is clearly done to strengthen the characters, thereby allowing them to develop and carry the film. The plot doesn't need to be heavy because the main attraction in "Fairhaven" isn't the destination the characters are heading toward; it's the journey there. That is, if all or any of the characters get to that destination. In fact, the story is much more interesting because it is fairly clear that not everyone will accomplish what each sets out to do by the end of the film.

The characters in the film are fairly relatable, especially Kate, who is clearly bored with her life and yet manages to keep it bottled up so she doesn't explode. As played by Paulson, she is just going through the daily motions of life without really living. It isn't until the audience can take a closer look at her face that they see the pain, boredom, and tension that all reside there. Paulson knows just when to make her look sad and when to make her light up a bit, that is, when she finds out that Dave is back in town. It is likely the most excited Kate has looked and felt in years.

The quiet desperation of the film is a testament to the actors, who are great across the board. Even the supporting players are superb, helping to paint a picture of the complicated web that gets spun when so many unsure people live in the same small town. O'Brien, who not only stars in the film but also serves as cowriter and director, has a real eye for elevating the tiniest slice of life and putting it under a microscope. What is seen under that microscope is never perfect, or even pretty, but it is vastly interesting, just like "Fairhaven."

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars