Kris Swanberg’s first feature, “It was great, but I was ready to come home,” really works as a visual essay exclusively based around the title sentiment. Swanberg’s patient, somewhat haphazard portrait of two friends (Swanberg and Jade Healy) on a trip to Costa Rica drifts from one fairly innocuous development to another, but a keen psychological undercurrent gradually emerges over the course of the swift 65-minutes running time. As it becomes clear that Swanberg’s character still has feelings for her ex-boyfriend, the serenity of the duo’s surroundings start to become a space for meditation, while Healy just wants to have fun. They don’t run into overt conflicts with each other or anyone else, but the movie definitely has a point, turning their trip into the slow-building drama of the mind. Of course, it helps that the gorgeous Costa Rica landscape never loses its cinematic appeal. “It was great” might not work for everyone, but its beautiful compositions can’t be denied.
It’s hard to say if Swanberg (wife of Joe) actually figured out how to tap into the dimensionality of her character’s troubles or if she just got lucky with the succession of scenes that wound up in the final product. Either way, she owes a lot to her collaborators, particularly cinematographer Benjamin Kasulke and editor David Lowery (whose SXSW feature “St. Nick” also displays an extraordinary control of cinematic devices). The serene tropical backdrop provides these two believable characters with a remarkably potent environment for letting their personalities slowly unfurl. If it offers some wisdom about the proper mental protocol for breakups — and I think it does — that’s just the luck of the draw. Nevertheless, the movie seems better because of it.