See Girl Run (Phase 4 Films, NR)

When we review older films on The Arts STL, it’s usually because of a new archival DVD or Blu-Ray release. Back in March, though, we started a brief #SocialDistancingCinema series reviewing notable movies, new or old, available to stream to help occupy your quarantine time. And it’s in that spirit that I write this review of See Girl Run, a little-seen 2012 film I stumbled across on Amazon Prime and enjoyed so much that I just want to run around telling people how good it is. (As I write this, the film doesn’t have a single critic review on Rotten Tomatoes, so someone has to and it may as well be me!)

It’s somewhat understandable how writer/director Nate Meyer’s second feature film dropped off the radar of most moviegoers, saddled as it is with a blandly generic name and a generic premise as well: a thirtysomething woman in a bland marriage in the big city goes back to her rural hometown to reconnect with her high school flame and hopefully get her groove back. It sounds like a recipe for a Lifetime movie, but Meyer fortunately forgoes sentimental platitudes and predictable feel-good story arcs for a character study of two people who have been so focused on their “what ifs” that they’re blind to what’s in front of them.

The film is helped immensely by its stellar leads. Robin Tunney plays Emmie, whom we meet trying out for a reality TV show that promises to reconnect people with the ex-that-got-away. This is all, of course, unbeknownst to her husband Graham (Josh Hamilton), whose career finances Emmie’s labor-of-love, a doggy daycare that she owns and operates. Back in high school, Emmie dated Jason (Adam Scott) and it was the absolute perfect relationship, two people who meshed perfectly in every way and understood each other’s very souls. But, as Emmie points out, they never technically broke up, just drifted apart when they attended different colleges. So, is Emmie cheating on Graham by trying to reconnect with Jason? Or has she been cheating on Jason this whole time by marrying Graham?

She heads back to her Maine hometown to find out, a place she’s been avoiding thanks to her alcoholic brother Brandon (Jeremy Strong), who has recently quit drinking and moved back in with their parents, who maintain an awkwardly antagonistic marriage. Brandon has been in touch with Jason a few times over the years so Emmie has him make first contact, and watches from afar to see if the spark might still be there.

Where See Girl Run really connects is in how it subtly explores the true price of being forever obsessed with your long-gone high school glory days. Emmie has in some ways moved on, creating a New York City life for herself, yet she still keeps every memento Jason ever gave her, many hidden at her parents’ house where she knows Graham could never find them. Jason is stuck in a bigger rut, having never gotten over Emmie (he still constantly sends her postcards and drawings) and also never moved beyond his high school dream of being an artist, painting the same cartoony frogs that he drew on his high school mash notes. He claims to be an artist yet works at a lobster shack out of necessity, albeit one an hour-and-a-half outside of town so he can maintain the lie of artistic success.

These subtleties are captured wonderfully by the leads. Tunney plays Emmie as harried, restless, and hesitant, yet there’s a light that turns on behind her eyes whenever Jason is mentioned—she may try to hide her obsession from her husband, but it’s plain as day to us. Scott’s Jason is a character who tries to disguise his frustration with smiles and sarcasm even though, as his work and his current relationship fall apart, it occasionally boils over despite his best attempts. In the promise of a reunion with Emmie, however, we see his inner puppy dog, and know that he is convinced that she is all he needs to set his whole world right. In some ways, he’s kind of a loser, but with Scott’s natural charisma, he’s a lovable loser (early scenes of him working at the lobster shack, educating customers on how to eat a lobster, are not only hilarious but also belie his true potential), and you can easily see why his devotion is a prize that Emmie, even after a decade-plus away, finds hard to let go of.

All the back-and-forth, will-they-or-won’t-theys build to an ending that is one of the most perfectly executed, most downright satisfying endings to a dramatic movie I’ve seen in a while. This may seem like a spoiler, but trust me: your opinion of whether or not Emmie should run into Jason’s arms or run back to New York will teeter back and forth through the whole movie, even up to the moment her decision is made. Rare is the movie with a love triangle that doesn’t telegraph its ending from its opening minutes. Huge props to Meyer—and Tunney and Scott—for keeping us guessing and sticking the landing.

As expected, See Girl Run focuses heavily on the Girl, but the supporting cast does fine work in small roles. Graham at first seems like a cardboard cutout of an oblivious husband, but when Emmie disappears to Maine, Hamilton nails that “oh shit, I screwed up, how do I fix this” feeling. Emmie’s family drama can at times feel a tad tacked on, a distraction from the plot’s main through line, but they’re ultimately a necessity, their presence putting the chess pieces in place on the board. (They fortunately don’t quite overstay their welcome, a nice benefit of the movie’s tight 89-minute runtime.) Strong lays it on a bit too thick as Emmie’s depressive alcoholic brother, but William Sadler (as Emmie’s dad Marty) sweeps in with one of the movie’s finest scenes, laying out to Emmie his philosophy of how to make a marriage stick over the long term using a tortured-yet-apt metaphor about airplane missiles in a speech that is wonderfully, gloriously Peak Dad.

Though often funny, See Girl Run is not a romantic comedy, it’s a drama about romance and arrested development and figuring out what you truly want out of life, because no one else can figure that out for you. It captures all these deeply personal concerns with a well-observed script and actors who make their roles feel realistic and lived-in, and wraps them all up with an ending that reveals its real theme in an instant that truly, satisfyingly lingers. | Jason Green

See Girl Run is currently streaming for free on Tubi and Amazon Prime with a subscription. If you’re reading this in the far-flung future, check out Reelgood.com for the latest availability.

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