SOUTH MOUNTAIN – movie review

SOUTH MOUNTAIN
Breaking Glass Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Hilary Brougher
Screenwriter: Hilary Brougher
Cast: Talia Balsam, Scott Cohen, Andrus Nichols, Violet Rea, Michael Oberholtzer, Macaulee Ruosnak Cassaday
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/9/20
Opens: April 3, 2020

South Mountain (2019)

New York State’s Catskill Mountains, where the events of “South Mountain” take place, was once in its glory as a locale for a slew of large hotels catering in part to singles who came up from the city, each to find the man or woman of the single person’s dreams. Since jet planes had been taking college kids and other youths to Europe and beyond—not right now with the coronavirus as our president has banned a considerable amount of travel between us and the continent—the grand hotels like the Concord and Grossingers are gone. Instead the former borscht belt now serves as summer homes largely for middle-aged people who drive up the mountain with their kids, giving us in the movie audience a chance to look away from the masses who used to go there on spring break and delve into the relationship of one family whose marriage is in trouble.

Benefitting the film is the idea that this is one of a growing number of celluloids from female directors, in this case starring the immensely talented Talia Balsam in the role of Lila, who discovers that her husband Edgar, played by Scott Cohen, is leading two lives. When he makes trips away from his family allegedly to meet producers to peddle his scripts, he has a girlfriend in Brooklyn. Every time he says he has to take a phone call from his producers, he is actually talking to his significant other, giving us in the audience a chance to see an actual birth on his I-phone. When Lila discovers all, the marriage may be destined to go south, but in this case there’s a chance for a friendship to remain and for the new baby to be introduced to Lila and to Lila’s daughters. Vacationing with Lila and Edgar is Lila (Andrus Nichols), a good friend going through chemotherapy. Divorce as a finale to a couple’s nuptials? Not so simple.

The entire project might be compared to Ingmar Bergman’s “Scenes from a Marriage,” though that would be trivializing the Swedish giant. Yet “South Mountain” is delightful in its own terms, dealing with scenes leading to a divorce of a middle-aged couple with teen kids, though principally the story takes second billing to the performers. Clearly character trumps plot, not a bad idea considering how terrific Balsam is in the role of a woman who, in one startling scene, tries to poison her husband but realizes the monstrosity of the crime and takes action to reverse the damage.

Hilary Brougher, whose “Innocence” is based on a dark secret threatening a Manhattan prep school and “Stephanie Daley” about a 16-year-old suspected of concealing her pregnancy and murdering her infant, may be committed to movies on women’s issues, works we need a lot more of. This mature, quiet study of a vacationing family with a brief affair between Lila and Jonah (Michael Oberholtzer) , who is a friend of the couple’s daughters and who reads Kant for fun, is thrown in to reveal additional complexity, all wrapped up in a neat package about splits among the 50-somethings.

85 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – A
Technical – B
Overall – B+