Reichardt, Kelly: Director Profile

Experimental filmmaker Kelly Reichardt described her 1995 debut, River of Grass, as “a road movie without the road, a love story without the love, a crime story without the crime.” It's an accurate description, for Reichardt evokes the familiar lovers-on-the-run genre, only to stand it on its head with fresh meaning and droll humor. In the process, she confounds predictable formulas, forcing the audience to recognize the banality of her characters.

A lonely thirtysomething mother of three, Cozy (Lisa Bowman) lives in a drab suburb of Florida's Broward County with her police detective father and her dull husband. One Friday night, she dresses up and heads for the local bar, where she meets Lee (Larry Fessenden). Lee is an equally lonely layabout who grew up in a broken home and has been thrown out of the house he's shared with his mother and grandmother. Cozy and Lee could hardly be more ordinary; everything about them, starting with their looks, is average. Lacking the opportunity to live anything but a bleak existence, they somehow ignite within each other the possibility of a more adventurous life. Circumstances lead them to believe they could be killers, although they are clueless–they are stopped at a toll gate because they lack a quarter.

Cozy narrates the film in a deliberately flat and affectless voice, which accentuates the mysterious workings of fate. As in My New Gun, chance thrusts a gun in Cozy's hands. Nervously and hilariously, she grips her father's pistol with one hand and steers her car with the other. Elliptically Godardian, River of Grass offers a provocative meditation on female subjectivity, free will, and the failure of movie myths, or how real life defies reel life.

If you want to know more about this issue, please read my book, Cinema of Outsiders: The Rise of American Independent Film(NYU Press, hardcover 2000; paperback 2001).