Consume and conform, worship and prey, is there really any difference between organised religion and consumerism? In Something, Anything (2014), Paul Harrill’s sombre observation of sleepy Middle America, the pressure to abide by societies norms result in an unconventional love story about overcoming grief and having the courage to take a different direction. A series of hurried ellipses give us a glimpse into Peggy’s (Ashley Shelton) life. In a matter of minutes we’ve witnessed her businessman boyfriend propose, the planning of their weeding, the big day itself and the ensuing news that she’s pregnant. It’s a fitting way to depict the fast pace at which we live our modern lives.
However, when tragedy strikes, the compulsive Peggy undergoes a sudden urge to change her life, leading her down an entirely different path than the one she and her husband had planned. She leaves her job, moves out of her house and relinquishing all of her material possessions, embarking on a life of solitude. A quiet condemnation of a first-world country that’s rotten to the core, Harrill has attempted to understand the ills of society through the televisual aesthetic of middle-class suburbia. Peggy’s transformation from shrewd real estate agent to bookish library assistant is a plausible one thanks to Shelton’s deliberately awkward (and watchable) performance, presenting us with a vulnerable and sympathetic human outwardly uncomfortable within her own surroundings.
As a portrait of a young girl in crisis, Harrill successfully highlights the subjection of women in society through the perpetuation of the archaic role of the mother and wife. And yet, there is a sense that a focus on the oppression of women through the unachievable aesthetic of aspirational representations of beauty in the media could have been explored further than a few linger shots on the covers of fashion magazines. Harrill has instead exchanged one oppressive institution for another, deciding to make Christianity Peggy’s escape route. Whilst this depiction of the desire to ‘belong’ makes for a novel comment on the human condition, our protagonist never truly understands the roots of her malaise. The obstacles Peggy encounters on her road to salvation, meanwhile, range from the well-executed to the clichéd.
Harris’ conventional and slightly antiquated approach highlights both the budgetary limitations of the production and the calibre of talent at his disposal. At times reminiscent of a pleasant daytime televisual movie, Something, Anything embraces the same relinquishment of frivolous items adopted by its protagonist, yet at times this approach has a detrimental effect on the film’s pacing, culminating in a series of sluggish, awkward scenes, were characters appear excruciatingly uncomfortable, with their lines delivered in a jarringly laborious fashion. A warm and incredibly humane depiction of middle class malaise, Harrill’s ultimate message might be expressed in a hushed whisper of humility, but that doesn’t make it any less significant.
The 68th Edinburgh Film Festival takes place from 18-29 June 2014. For more of our EIFF coverage, follow ;this link.