SAN FRANCISCO -- It is one of those films, judging from its subject matter, that defies expectations. In this case, it is a delightful surprise.
As the credits flash over the opening scene of a post-funeral reception, one may assume that the 87 minutes will be steeped in melodrama. After all, it is the story of a blue-collar construction worker who is left to care for his four-month-old daughter after his wife dies.
How else would a story about loss, grief and responsibility, not to mention a battle over legal custody thrown in the mix, be other than a melancholy-drenched sob fest strewn with regulation courtroom dramatics?
Expectations of predictability, however, are quickly erased as the overall tone becomes apparent in the first few lines of dialogue, and as the offbeat musical score punctuates an otherwise somber scene.
Filmed on location in Vancouver, British Colombia, Canada, this debut feature by writer and director Titus Heckel turns out to be a refreshing take on the subject matter. Best described as quirky, the film is filled with interesting characters with distinct peculiarities amplified on screen, although they are not too far from people in real life, who spout witty and hilarious one-liners that make for many droll moments.
Kerry van der Griend, whose is known for his role in the “Night at the Museum” series of films, delivers a stern and deadpan performance as the main character Auden Price, replete with clever lines conveyed with sarcasm. Price is a strangely charming and endearing character.
Leslie Lewis gives an effective performance as Petra Dell, an eccentric physicist who hires Auden to fix her basement; this eventually leads to an odd affair between the two. Lewis’ restrained acting subtly hints that Petra is slightly unhinged as a result of an unusual childhood. This makes for an oddly tasty pairing of characters that is delightful to watch. (Leslie Lewis’ mother, Filipino American entrepreneur-philanthropist, is the film’s executive producer.)
“With Child” is a thoughtful film with some serious moments. The custody battle between Auden and his sister-in-law is played out with a focus on the relationship between the quirky characters, in keeping with the film’s overall tone. It avoids the usual drawn-out dramatic court scenario.
The film’s offbeat tone works well in contrast with the underlying seriousness of most of the scenes that are shot with heightened realism. The characters that make up its world are essentially damaged, wounded to their core. Mirroring the psyche of its characters, the film conveys an atmosphere of dark humor that becomes a counterpart to the way its characters cope with tragedy and a hurtful past, as they try to make sense of life, which at bottom is full of absurdities.
In a pivotal scene, Auden asks Petra, “Why do you want to help me?” She answers, “I want to, I’m choosing my past.” She continues, “I don’t know what I was or who I was when I was younger, so I’m choosing who I was and consequently who I am now.” Auden quips, “Life gives you lemons, make lemonade?” Petra answers, “Life gives you lemons because though you didn’t know it you always wanted to make lemonade.”
Production Company: With Child Productions
Cast: Kerry van der Griend, Leslie Lewis, Lori Kokotailo, Michael Soltis, Beau Heaton
Writer and Director: Titus Heckel
Producers: Shannon Braithwaite, Titus Heckel, Leslie Lewis
Executive producers: Loida Nicolas Lewis, Gavin Sword
Director of photography: Vince Arvidson
Production designer: Alyssa King
Editor: John Redpath
Music: Alfredo Santa Ana
Runtime: 87 min.