J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Racing Daylight

Racing Daylight
Written and directed by Nicole Quinn
Vanguard Cinema

Sometimes weirdness is hereditary. “There have always been Stokes in Cedarsville,” says Sadie Stokes, but they tended to be crazy, haunted, or both. The Stokes’ dark family history truly haunts the present generation, resulting in a willing journey into madness in Nicole Quinn’s Racing Daylight (trailer here), which releases on DVD this week

The first of Racing’s triptych of stories is that of Sadie’s descent into madness. The end of the Stokes line, Sadie has no identity of her own in Cedarsville. She is either her mother’s daughter or her grandmother’s granddaughter, depending on the generation of the townsperson. She is desperately infatuated with Henry, the handyman and avid reader of Civil War history, but he seems to interpret her extreme shyness as either disinterest or mental derangement. In fact, she is going mad, as she says so herself in her voiceover narration.

Sadie is apparently a dead-ringer for her ancestor Anna, whose spirit is slowly taking possession of her. As small town luck would have it, Henry is also the spitting image of Anna’s true love Harry. As Anna was much bolder in affairs of the heart, Sadie eventually decides to go along for the ride, embracing Anna’s dominant persona.

In the second part of Racing we meet Edmund, Anna’s husband and father to the son she conceived with Harry. Like Sadie, he is also haunted by spirits, including that of a runaway slave he accidentally killed as a teenager, who happens to look exactly like one of Sadie’s few friends in modern day Cedarsville. Since Edmund has long grown accustomed to the silent company of his ghost, it is a sad, pointless haunting. However, when Anna dies and also returns as a spirit, her presence makes it nearly impossible for him to carry on with his life.

The third part is “Henry’s Story,” as he tries to make sense of it all, both past and present. Here, Racing abruptly departs from the serious tone of the first two parts. While apparently addressing the audience directly, Henry makes some shrewd observations as he puts his amateur historian’s instincts to good use. In some cleverly cut sequences, we view scenes from Sadie’s story from his ironic perspective. We also get a wild “punchline” that seems completely out of place with the rest of what preceded it. However, “Henry’s Story” has a go-for-broke spirit that you have to admire.

Racing boasts an interesting cast, including Melissa Leo, recognizable from the show Homicide as Sadie and Anna, as well as the perfectly cast David Strathairn, seen in nearly every John Sayles film in recent years, as Henry and Harry. Unfortunately, the film’s other name actor, the cool Giancarlo Esposito (also of Homicide and films like The Usual Suspects) does not get much to do here beyond looking sad as Edmund’s ghost.

Though entirely written and directed Nicole Quinn, one would think Henry’s installment was produced by an entirely different creative team than first two stories. Even if it is somewhat overwritten and highly uneven, the result is at least memorable. Ultimately, Racing is worth checking out on DVD for a fine performance by Strathairn and a few odd scenes of “well-how-do-you-like-that” bemusement.

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