When we first meet Molly, she’s taking care of her toddler in a dark, empty apartment. As she goes through the motions of her son’s bedtime routine, claustrophobic cinematography and a zombielike countenance make one thing abundantly clear: she’d rather be anywhere but here.
So she decides to leave. When her husband comes home, Molly, on the verge of a breakdown, announces her intentions to take a last-minute weekend road trip to an old friend’s country home. To her husband’s chagrin, she offers little in the way of explanation—”I’m stuck here, with him, and you’re gone all the time”—and storms off the scene. She seems conflicted about leaving in this fashion and spends most of the drive fighting back sobs. When she arrives, Molly enters another emotionally-charged situation: Her friends can barely suppress their shock at seeing her, and she’s greeted with a mixed bag of resentment and elation. Like a ghost, she returns to her former life to try it on for size.
Gregory Kohn’s followup to the negatively received “Northeast” is an improvement on his debut, but despite some compelling themes and a well-played drug trip, “Come Down Molly” still suffers from some rookie missteps. The film’s uneven performances, mediocre cinematography and reluctance to commit to exploring a few ideas deeply (rather than many ideas superficially) undermines its potential.
In a generation of late bloomers extolling the virtues of extended youth, Molly is an outlier. Her close friends, male thirty-somethings, have enjoyed the luxury of postponing traditional adulthood. They’ve moved in and out of careers and relationships without consequence. Their thirties are merely an extension of their twenties, and they retain many of the same social habits and perspectives. How did Molly, with her devil-may-care attitude and her commitment to “being one of the boys,” end up an unhappy homemaker?
Though the central question is explored with varying degrees of success, the sentiment Kohn has captured here is both real and immediate. When Molly leaves the room, one of her guy friends says, “I haven’t spoken to her in a year. Where’s she been? Kinda weird.” Another responds: “She’s got a kid. She’s a mom.” The guys’ cavalier approach to talking about motherhood reveals the deep chasm that separates Molly and her old friends. Later, the group decides to take mushrooms and cajoles Molly into joining them, and they discuss the merits of “growing up.” When asked about the prospect of getting engaged to his girlfriend, one of the guys says, “I’m just really selfish right now.” He’s effectively a mouthpiece for his generation.
The story features telltale oversights that a female director might not have missed. Kohn neglects to tell us, for example, whether or not Molly has or has ever had a career; this is a conspicuous part of the equation and its omission does a disservice to her character. Additionally, the time-related pressures women face with regard to settling down are implicit but not addressed. As non-traditionally female as Molly may be, she’s still a woman; filling in these blanks would have rounded out her character, providing us with more fodder to empathize.
“Come Down Molly” does visit intriguing themes, but it does so in an inchoate manner. Its earnest intentions are ill-served by a lack of commitment to exploring the characters’ motivations. At one point, Molly hallucinates a conversation with her father, but the episode is quickly abandoned and remains unexplained. When serious themes such as Molly’s depleted sex drive enter the dialogue, they’re tempered by comedic moments that immediately follow. It’s as if the director is reluctant to be melodramatic. Here, it comes at the cost of substance. “You gotta get your lows to get your highs,” one guy friend says while tripping. “It feels like a lot of us have just plateaued, and it scares me.” The film seems to suffer from this very anxiety.
To his credit, Kohn does effectively commit to the honest depiction of a drug trip. Anyone who has experienced psychedelic drugs will fondly welcome some familiar nature-loving, philosophizing scenes here. Kohn takes care to avoid over-the-top performances in this realm, relying on subtle shifts in mood, improvised dialogue, and small looks of wonderment to depict the act of tripping. To the film’s advantage, the psychological merit of psychedelics is legitimately returning to contemporary dialogue. This adds to the film’s zeitgeist appeal: “Come Down Molly,” if not wholly successful, is timely in a big way.
“Come Down Molly” premiered at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.