The Post’s critics highlight original movies that are being streamed and made available on demand. Here are this week’s picks.
THE ODD WAY HOME
A road movie about two difficult but ultimately lovable misfits isn’t exactly news. Still, “The Odd Way Home” gets under your skin, thanks mainly to the nuanced performance of Chris Marquette as a young man with Asperger’s syndrome. Marquette — whom some may remember from “Joan of Arcadia,” in which he played the title character’s sensitive yet goofy boyfriend, Adam — manages, for the most part, to sidestep cliche. That’s no easy task, considering that the role calls for him, as in “Rain Man,” to be a savant, yet bewildered by simple emotion.
A cartographic prodigy, he draws detailed maps of the United States on brown paper towels, which he cadges from public restrooms.
His acting is no mean feat, given that the screenplay by Jason Ronstadt and director Rajeev Nirmalakhandan occasionally swerves from melodrama to wacky comedy. Mostly, however, the movie steers a straight, if well-worn path between the two extremes.
Marquette, ironically, has it easier than Rumer Willis. The actress, who’s looking remarkably like her mother, Demi Moore, these days, has the somewhat thankless task of portraying Maya, a young, drug-addicted woman on the run from a physically abusive relationship. That stock character — tough on the outside, damaged on the inside — is fraught with pitfalls, one or two of which the actress trips on before finding Maya’s center of gravity by the end.
That’s the inevitable result of the arc of the story, which is about two people who discover themselves (and each other) while running from something else.
The two meet when Maya steals the truck that Duncan lives in. Maya, who has noticed an uncashed check from Duncan’s absentee father (Bruce Altman), decides to track the man down, first out of greed, but ultimately to tell him off for abandoning the kid she has come to see as a friend.
There will be another family reunion between Maya and her mother (Veronica Cartwright) along the way, but both of these side excursions are distractions from the main itinerary of the tale, which has less to do with revisiting the past than letting go of it.
A pit stop in a small Western town, where Maya holes up with an ex-boyfriend (Brendan Sexton III), provides a quirky and welcome change of pace. Sexton, whose character manages a nutty little theater specializing in cowboy vaudeville, finds surprising depth and compassion in a tiny but richly rendered part. I wanted to see more of him. This whole diversion, which Nirmalakhandan offers up without explanation or apology, is the best, truest — and oddest — part of the whole film.
“Maps tell us nearly everything,” Duncan says. To the contrary, “The Odd Way Home” proves that sometimes the best way to get somewhere is to go off-road. -- Michael O'Sullivan
Unrated. Contains some crude language, drug content and violence. 87 minutes. Available through iTunes and most broadcast VOD providers.
DATE AND SWITCH
If raunchy teen comedies are to be believed, prom night is nothing more than a deadline for virginity loss. And “Date and Switch” follows the same familiar path, until, thankfully, it doesn’t. An interesting twist emerges just following the well-worn scene of best friends Michael (Nicholas Braun) and Matty (Hunter Cope) making a pact: Matty reveals that, in fact, he’s gay.
“But you’re out of shape,” Michael protests. What was once an easy friendship becomes a minefield. While Matty navigates the tricky path to coming out, Michael tries, and often fails, to be supportive. Michael drags his friend to a gay club where men strip down and dance in a room filled with foam. Matty may be gay, Michael reasons, but that doesn’t mean the pair shouldn’t go through with their sex-by-prom plan. To add another layer of complexity, Michael begins to fall for Matty’s ex-girlfriend, Em (Dakota Johnson).
The movie was written by “Parks and Rec” writer-producer Alan Yang, which explains some of the great supporting cast, including series regulars Nick Offerman (who plays Michael’s dad), Megan Mullally (in the role of Matty’s mom) and Aziz Ansari. Those seasoned comedians, plus Larry Wilmore, Rob Huebel and other funny people, elevate the proceedings a bit, although Braun and Cope hold their own.
As with most teen comedies, the crude jokes are hit-or-miss. But in the same way “Superbad” interspersed in-your-face obscenity with a surprisingly affecting bromance, “Date and Switch” manages to sprinkle in some sweetness among the salty humor. -- Stephanie Merry
R. Contains strong sexual content, including crude dialogue, pervasive language, and drug and alcohol use, all involving teens. 90 minutes. Available on iTunes, Netflix, Amazon Instant, Vudu and Flixster.
THE GREAT FLOOD
Historically, the films of Bill Morrison, who has made a mini-industry of reclaiming lost and damaged nitrate film stock and turning it into poetic essays on history, permanence and decay, have been relegated to museums and rarefied repertory houses. His new film, “The Great Flood,” made its Washington premiere at the National Gallery of Art just last month.
Viewers who missed that screening can still experience the film, which is now available on demand. A mesmerizing collection of film fragments taken during the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 — which covered 27,000 square miles, displacing thousands of people — Morrison’s film hews to the same style he’s developed with such films as “Decasia” and “The Miners’ Hymns.” Ghostly black-and-white images seem to emerge from a dimly remembered collective past, their smudges, stains and shadows creating their own abstract visual rhythm. In the case of “The Great Flood,” the haunting effect is underscored by a lilting score by jazz guitarist Bill Frissell.
“The Great Flood” is organized into chapters — “Sharecroppers,” “Levees,” “Evacuation” — but it’s an impressionistic work, its monumental images of mules and men loading cotton bales seamlessly giving way to the lyrical sight of a refugee playing a piano in an evacuees’ camp or a woman seeming to pluck a flower while being boated to safety from her flooded home. Beautiful, terrifying and eerily reminiscent of the bleak iconography that emerged from Hurricane Katrina, “The Great Flood” performs the valuable work of labor, environmental and social history, but it keeps explanatory text to a minimum, instead working on another level of consciousness altogether.
Morrison nonetheless has a narrative point in “The Great Flood,” which clearly traces how the natural disaster led to the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North in the 1920s.
“The Great Flood” ends on a somewhat ambiguous, even unsettling note, with the film jumping through time to reveal footage of musicians in the decades after the flood itself, ending with a tableau centered on a black woman sinuously dancing to unheard music. The image, while arresting, is discomfiting: The filmmaker’s affection for his subjects is palpable, but so is a troubling tendency toward aestheticizing bodies in a way that makes them less human than exotic objects.
Still, “The Great Flood” exerts as transfixing and inexorable a force as the disaster it documents. Morrison has made a film about his nominal subject but also, most simply, about what he finds beautiful. His enchantment is contagious. -- Ann Hornaday
Unrated. Contains nothing objectionable. 80 minutes. Available via Amazon Instant, iTunes, YouTube and Google Play.
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