Bottled Up / Enid Zentelis / 2014 / threestar Tribeca

Active Ingredients: Thoughtful character development
Side Effects: Drab photography; Awkward comedy

[Bottled Up plays at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 23rd.]

Bottled Up is a frustratingly confused indie dramedy combining hippie environmentalism with pain pill addiction. These two forces—levity and happiness; misery and weightiness—pull both the film and Melissa Leo‘s single mother protagonist in opposite directions. While neither ultimately has the power to carry Bottled Up, they nonetheless create sympathetic, if shallow, characters.

By the end of the film, I appreciated the cumulative effect of the story on Melissa Leo’s Fey and Josh Hamilton‘s naive and kind Becket. Like the house plants Fey nurtures so lovingly, Leo and Hamilton slowly and unexpectedly begin to bloom. Still, director Enid Zentelis struggles to animate them from scene to scene. The duo, along with Fey’s daughter in denial of her addiction to pain medication, spend time together cooking meals and doing yard work, but mostly just waiting in vain for either humor or pathos to emerge from their chemistry.

Visually the film is as muddled as its tone, with colors and vitality washed into a dull fog of grey and beige. The aesthetic shortcomings of Bottled Up point to its overall struggle to breathe life into its characters. They somehow do begin to come alive by the film’s end, but too late and too simplistically.