You could say that I had an on-again, off-again relationship with Littlerock (trailer below). Impressive yet exasperating, Mike Ott’s film about two Japanese tourists stranded in a California hamlet seduces, cheats, and comes halfway back to reconciliation, which is just another way of saying love hurts. And love it I did, at least at first. The camerawork is sensual and assured, whether capturing the low glimmer of fairy lights at a backyard kegger or a field of crispy, amber grass at dusk. While it’s just a slip of a film, more impression than narrative, the impression smacks of nostalgia — it’s a sweet reminder of afternoons drinking beer from brown bags and throwing rocks in abandoned lots.
The tourists, siblings named Atsuko and Rintaro (Atsuko Okatsuka and Rintaro Sawamoto), have wandered into town to wait for their broken-down rental car to be replaced. Speaking little English, they are taken under wing by a wannabe model and actor, Cory (Cory Zacharia), and in the pleasant minor adventures that follow, Littlerock exudes a low-key confidence that won me over.
(I was spurned.)
Even for a film that does youthful dallying well, Littlerock has an unfortunate lack of focus. Just as Atsuko discovers an ability to disarm the young men around her — angering Rintaro, who drives on to the next destination without her — the film drowns her with extraneous material. Characters emerge and drift away; throwaway lines, like Cory’s father’s suggestion that he go turn tricks with the “pretty boys” on the Sunset Strip, make dark allusions that float off unexamined. Potential subplots, such as a stale one involving money Cory owes to a pair of local drug pushers, never gel. In this dreary middle section, Atsuko becomes a foil for Cory’s painful earnestness, which Zacharia plays with contorted face and high voice. “Would you rather kiss Jordan than me?” he whines. “I’m telling you how I feel, and it’s like you don’t even care!” The film’s weakest link, he never convinces as either loyal friend or potential love interest — against Atsuko’s grace, Cory’s just a brat.
When Rintaro returns and tells his sister it’s time to get the show on the road, it’s a relief. As Atsuko walks her bike along a dirt path in the gloaming, teary eyes catching the last light, Littlerock rekindles somewhat, but the momentum’s already gone. She’s crying over the aforementioned Jordan, who earlier gave her a mixtape titled “Limerence.” I looked it up, thinking I’d find some hip band I’d never heard of, but it turns out limerence is a psychological term. It refers to the overwhelming need to have one’s feelings reciprocated by those with whom we fall in love. I guess Littlerock had me feeling a little limerent myself: I wanted so much for it to be as good as it promised, but in the end I was left holding the bag.
Littlerock opens today at Laemmle Sunset 5 in Los Angeles.
[Trailer and photo courtesy of Small Form Film]