High Art crashes into “The Dukes of Hazzard” in writer/director Anthony Haney-Jardine‘s “Anywhere, USA,” the most unusual of the dramatic competition films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. On one level, “Anywhere” is experimental hokum, a parade of Southern stereotypes and trailer park jokes. Yet, beneath the trashy humor and broad-stroke characters, “Anywhere” claims striking visual beauty, a standout performance and pride in its Ashville, NC locations and residents.
“Anywhere” unfolds in three parts and like all omnibus films some segments are better than others. In the segment titled “Penance,” a man accuses his girlfriend of having an affair with a Middle Eastern terrorist after she starts eating pistachio nuts. In “Loss,” the film’s standout segment, Pearl (Perla Haney-Jardine), an orphaned eight-year-old in the care of her hippie uncle, questions if the tooth fairy really exists. Finally, in “Ignorance,” a wealthy businessman named Ralph sets out to meet some black people – for the first time in his life. Two women gossip alongside a tanning bed; serving as the film’s Greek Chorus and helping to connect the stories.
“Anywhere” is set in the director’s hometown of Asheville, North Carolina, giving the film an authentic feel. The majority of the actors are non-professional actors and their complete ease and believability give the film its carefree sense of humor. The film’s star performance belongs to Haney-Jardine’s daughter Perla who shows smartness and sass as Pearl. In the film’s standout scene, Pearl drinks some whiskey and pulls out a tooth with a pair of pliers. For once and for all she wants to know if the tooth fairy is real.
“Anywhere” looks stunning from start to finish thanks to cameraman Patrick Rousseau, especially a sequence at the state fair. When a joke stumbles, there’s still something beautiful on-screen to watch. While “Anywhere” may be an experimental film in structure, similar to a Harmony Korine film, its spirit is self-effacing, easygoing, worlds apart from many serious-minded, experimental films Haney-Jardine takes risks, reaches constantly and is unafraid to go for easy laughs with ‘Anywhere.’ It doesn’t matter if the film fails on some levels. That’s benefit of being good old boy, carefree moviemaking.
indieWIRE’s coverage of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival is available in iW’s special Park City section.