The debut feature from Adele Romanski, "Leave Me Like You Found Me," centers on a couple, recently reunited after a year apart, on a romantic camping trip. Cal and Erin are still feeling each other out, careful and tender. This doesn't stop them from declaring their love for each other, but love just isn't that simple, now is it? Their interactions devolve into passive-aggressive bickering and fighting, set against a gorgeous woodland backdrop, but if you wanted to watch couples fight, why head to the movie theater?
Anyone who's been through breakups and makeups will relate to this film. You will remember that you have had those very same conversations, practically word for word. Unfortunately, you will not want to relive those conversations through other people for 90 minutes. The performances are intimate and real, and Megan Boone and David Nordstrom are convincing in their portrayals of a couple walking on eggshells around each other. Unfortunately, not enough time is given to making the audience like them, even though they discuss why they love each other extenstively. Sure, Cal, you can tell Megan she's smart and fun and creative, but we don't get that at all. She comes off as just an insecure harpy with some really cute camping outfits.
The context of the camping trip provides a beautiful location, and the leads are attractive, so the film looks great (thankfully, despite its lo-fi style, there is a dearth of behind-the-head handheld following shots), and the natural setting provides a few choice moments for visual metaphor. Watch, as they set up their tent, Cal rips it down and hides it during a fight, only to put it up again; as Erin pulls Cal by the lip into the icy lake, submerging them in the water; as they gaze off a cliff into the valley below; or have a disagreement while overlooking the tumultuous rushing river. One particular fight, lost in the woods in the dark, illuminated only by their headlamps is brilliant in its staging, as they stumble around the forest, their faces only seen when one turns to look at the other in the eyes, training their bright light on each other.
This year, SXSW seems to have a couple of consistent themes in its narrative films (no more rape films, please), and one of those themes is camping. Both "In Our Nature" and "Nature Calls" take place on camping trips, and "In Our Nature" also sets a relationship drama against this backdrop. There's a bear shaking up the narrative during "In Our Nature," and when the possibility of a bear crops up in "Leave Me Like You Found Me," you almost hope that a good mauling jolts these two outside of their own heads and into the real world. Poison ivy outbreak after a tryst in the woods? Rattlesnake bite? Anything?
Eventually, you have to wonder what they are doing together. They seem to make each other miserable, and as they set off on yet another hike, you think, "Why don't they just go home? Longest camping trip ever." They both seem to know that their relationship is poisonous, turning them into people they are not, but they are also the only people who can seem to stand each other. You'll be wanting to break up with these two as well by the end of the film. "Leave Me Like You Found Me" is a pretty little indie film, but you may not want to put a ring on it. [C]