Out of Frame, Out of Mind

“This slide shows me showing your class a slide.”

“You decide what goes on the frame but it’s also important what stays out. I just want you to consider how much control you have over what the viewer sees, what the viewer doesn’t see.”

This is what Sophie Jacobs (Courteney Cox-Arquette) reminds her photography class. It’s the key dialogue in understanding Greg Harrison’s “November,” another puzzling indie that follows the amorphous styling of “Mulholland Drive.” The effect, unlike a 3-D experience, is like wearing a vague artsy glasses and being blindsided.

The movie is about Sophie and the tragic date of November 7. On that night, she sends her boyfriend Hugh (James LeGros) to a convenience store. He goes in, finds himself in the middle of robbery, is shot, and killed. Days later, during a therapy session, Sophie complains of headaches. Her therapist (Nora Dunn) suggests they’re symptoms of guilt, since Sophie had cheated on Hugh before his death. Things even get worse when Sophie finds a stray picture on her slide projector. It’s a shot outside the convenience store at the time of the murder. Sophie’s car parked outside and through the store window, a haunting figure could be perceived. Could it be Hugh? Who could have taken that picture? Why was it in Sophie’s slide projector?

It’s odd that after I saw this movie, I happen to stumble upon a review of “Stay.” More or less, both movies seem to exist in the same parallel universe. Both movies are puzzling and confusing, but “November” seems more organized and more appealingly overt. In “Stay,” the puzzle pieces kept getting weirder and more discouraging to solve. In “November,” you sense you’re getting closer to the truth and that’s comforting. Screenwriter Benjamin Brand nicely structures with three telling chapters: “Denial,” “Despair,” and “Acceptance.” Each revisits the scene of the crime with a different perspective, a different recollection, a different story.

Running at 73 minutes, “November” is short on time though. It should have been called “February” instead. But I prefer a short movie than a really long boring one. Considering this is a disorienting movie, I guess that’s a good thing. Cox-Arquette is mesmerizing in the lead role. As easy as she made Monica fat in “Friends,” she makes Monica disappear in this movie. It’s nice when an actress bares a different side of herself. James LeGros, an actor I hadn’t notice until now, makes an impression. Since we know his character will die, he garners much sympathy. The overall screenplay is adequately clever, although it comes close to being conceited. The artsy ambivalence can corrupt the emotional power of the story. The filmmakers can be too caught up with the idea of framing (what to put, what to leave out) and fail to focus on the picture itself.

Grade: B+

Courteney Cox, James LeGros, Nora Dunn, Anne Archer, Nick Offerman, Michael Ealy, Matthew Carey, Brittany Ishibashi, Robert Wu
Screenplay by
Benjamin Brand
Directed by
Greg Harrison
Rated R for violence and some language