In Aaron Katz's Cold Weather, Portland, Oregon is a vacant post-industrial landscape, a ghost town of retired machinery that, like our post-collegiate protagonists, once felt young. Our main character, Doug (Cris Lakenau), is a college student on indefinite hiatus and a young adult in prolonged adolescence. He's clinging to his sister Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn) and their family a bit more than he should. The sense their hometown used to be a warmer place is suggested both by the title and then by the job Doug gets: stacking blocks in an ice factory. When the film morphs into a mystery, it finds a way of marrying the highly structured plots of film noir and the willfully unstructured storylines of mumblecore. What Cold Weather doesn't indulge in is the needy emphasis most mublecore films have to deify romantic relationships, putting in its place a brother/sister bond that's looking for its own adult dynamic. Doug and Gail are perfect together; the siblings play their parts with a careful measure of frustration and generosity. The mystery, however, is not as compelling, but both are engagingly balanced against each other and that makes this exercise feel quite worthwhile. It could, like Cyrus and other money making mumblecore before it, pave a way to larger audiences and future economic sustainability for this cine-movement, which may be seeing its own adolescence (it's certainly having growth spurts). Box office, I believe, will pleasantly surprise us all.
Doug leaves college for the accepting but not permanently patient arms of his sister. Shortly after the move-in, they host their parents for a perfunctory dinner where it's made clear this kid is not sure of his prospects. Most wayward youth take art classes but, intrigued by the stories (and accoutrements) of Sherlock Holmes, Doug studied forensic science. It perhaps goes without saying he hardly evokes the diligence of CSI. He barely has the attention span of Barney Miller. He plans to leave his studies for long enough to settle into a working class pattern. This is his agenda before an ex girlfriend re-enters his life and suspiciously disappears, at which point his friend Carlos (Raúl Castillo) pulls him into a mystery plot that puts his forensic science classes to use and pushes the brother and sister dynamic into relief.
Sibling dramas are a familiar enough subject for the "accidental" storylines this type of indie tells, but involving the rigid mystery genre is novel. I love the idea of the pairing but found the mix of that particular genre and the "slice of life" aesthetic a bit unappealing. Perhaps it's because I have this hope that murder mysteries are rare, and a tandem belief that "slices of life" are happening all the time, so seeing the two subjects in such close proximity didn't compute. I had a feeling towards it that mixed anxiety and concern, as if Cold Weather should bear the warning "Do not attempt at home." Katz, however, is great with gentle moments (his most dear and haunting is the final scene), and he handles the balance of mystery and family drama quite adeptly. There's much to like in these chilly climes.
Distributor: IFC Films
Cast: Cris Lakenau, Trieste Kelly Dunn, Raúl Castillo and Robyn Rikoon
Director/Screenwriter: Aaron Katz
Producers: Lars Knudsen, Brendan McFadden, Ben Stambler and Jay Van Hoy
Running time: 96 min
Release date: February 4 ltd.