After his baseball team loses a game due to a call by umpire Ray Cook (Nick Nolte), Dave Tibbel (Trevor Morgan) and some friends decide to vandalize Ray’s house. Unfortunately for Dave, he is caught and starts paying off his debt by cleaning up the mess. But something odd begins to happen to Dave once he cleans this guys house up – he actually starts to like this old Ray fella, who seems like he also likes Dave, too. So, rather than just continuing to mess with the guy, he hangs out with him, more and more, getting to know who he is, where he comes from, and just what his whole life has been like. For Dave, it’s a way of coping with his mother’s absence, as well as the fact that his dad (Timothy Hutton), isn’t quite all that there for him, but for Ray, it’s all about getting to remember what it was like to be a kid, and have a family. It’s something that he hasn’t felt in forever and it’s something that Dave feels happy to give him, until it gets all too sad for either to actually be able to handle once the real truths come out.
Off the Black is probably the most perfect movie to make your small-budget, really low-key, very indie debut with. Not in that it’s a perfect movie and is absolutely the one to show everyone else in the world the true talents you possess, but because it’s so simple, so easygoing, and so non-challenging, that it feels like you’re watching someone get their act together, yet, at the same time, not want to go too far so that they lose themselves. It’s almost as if Off the Black was made with the intention that writer/director James Ponsoldt would follow all sorts of rules and guidelines and only after the movie was finished, edited, and released, then he would get to have some fun with movies for a change.
And judging by what he’s put out since, it’s not hard to imagine this.
See, Off the Black is a perfectly fine little indie that doesn’t set out to offend, change the world, or even shake up the world a little bit. It tells this small, humane tale about two people connecting, getting to know one another, and yeah, eventually bonding over stuff. It’s so safe and comfortable that it’s probably the most perfect movie you could take an aunt, uncle, grand-parent out to see and leave it knowing that you did a great service, because they’ll be pleased with what they saw. Sure, the cursing, drinking, and occasional bit of smoking may get in the way, but overall, it’s a movie that doesn’t go out of its way too much to really stir up any person’s raw feelings and/or emotions.
Which is also probably why, for a good portion at least, it’s so boring. It’s hard to really pin-point what it was about Off the Black that felt like it was just taking way too much of its time and meandered, even with the 90-minute run-time, but it just happened. There was this constant feeling I had while watching the movie knowing that I typically love certain tales of everyday, normal people like this, but for some reason, this one just didn’t grab me. Ponsoldt’s latest films have all done that, and then some, which is probably Off the Black has gone mostly unremembered, even after all of his success as of late.
That said, it isn’t a totally terrible movie. Just a monotonous and rather boring one, to say the least.
It helps that, as usual, Nick Nolte is pretty terrific in the lead role playing, guess this, a drunk who has a rough past and even rougher relationships with those from that past. It’s the kind of dirty, beaten-up role Nolte has downright perfected by now, which is why it’s no surprise he handles it oh so well here, bringing out some true heart and emotion in scenes with Trevor Morgan that, honestly, never feel believable. It isn’t that Nolte doesn’t try, it’s that Morgan’s character is so dull and plainly-written that it’s never all that understandable why he wants to be best pals with this old drunk dude in the first place.
The movie does try to make it appear that Morgan’s character’s mommy issues have to do with it, but even still, it doesn’t quite make sense. Timothy Hutton’s dad character brings out the most emotion in his four or five scenes, showing us a truly sad person who, honestly, could have been better friends with Nolte’s. It feels odd, never quite works, and yeah, it doesn’t help that Morgan’s probably not the best actor, either.
That said, Nolte saves the day. What else is new?
Consensus: As conventional as indie-dramas get, Off the Black never gets as dramatic as it wants to be, which keeps itself away from being all that emotional.
5 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Rotten Tomatoes