I Used To Be Darker

I Used to Be Darker

  • Given its material, I Used To Be Darker has the potential to be an emotionally gripping drama. Unfortunately, Writer/Director Matthew Porterfield’s filmmaking technique makes it below-average.
  • The actors, while not great, are all good enough to make us care about their characters.
  • Characters who are complex and interesting. Taryn (Deragh Campbell), Abby (Hannah Gross), Kim (Kim Taylor) and Bill (Ned Oldham) are all well developed.
  • Which is why it proves disappointing that many of Porterfield’s decisions distance us from them.
  • Start with the opening. Taryn (Deragh Campbell) works at a theme park, has a ne’er do well boyfriend and may or may not be pregnant, ingredients that could produce instant empathy and concern.
  • Instead, Porterfield and Co-Writer Amy Belk make the picture’s first twenty minutes so lite on dialogue that they prevent us from understanding Taryn.
  • The trend continues throughout. Consider the director’s lengthy, wide angle takes. Many of them prevent actors from emoting, and thereby from making us feel.
  • Near the end of the film, for example, Taryn and Abby have an overdue conversation, one that should be rife with emotion, but it isn’t. Because Porterfield frames the scene from behind. We see Taryn’s back and one-third of Abby’s face, meaning the actors cannot communicate feeling through facial expressions and gestures.
  • The director missteps by including lengthy musical interludes from Taylor and Oldham, as well. Both are talented musicians, but Porterfield doesn’t use their songs to produce emotion, as the Coen brothers do in Inside Llewyn Davis or Felix Van Groeningen does in the The Broken Circle Breakdown. Instead of enhancing the story, then, the music temporarily stops it.
  • All of which is doubly problematic given the movie’s plodding pace. Films this uneventful only work with vibrant characters to whom we emotionally connect.
  • Because we do not connect to them, however, I Used To Be Darker is not effective as a character-driven drama. It is more a check list of barely note-worthy events.
  • In that way, I Used To Be Darker operates on potential. Its characters are interesting and complicated enough that it could be a fantastic film.
  • It just isn’t.
  • Final Grade: D

14 thoughts on “I Used To Be Darker

    • I haven’t seen many reviews (it didn’t get a big release, obviously), but most of them have been positive. In fact, of the 17 reviews Rotten Tomatoes has indexed, 80% are positive.

      A part of me can see why. It has potential to be very good, but it needs better direction.

  1. I certainly found more to enjoy about this picture than you did, but good assessment nevertheless. I personally didn’t feel as locked out of the characters due to a lack of dialogue and actually found this a deeply personal, emotional movie. Different strokes for different folks.

    • Definitely. And I am certainly comfortable with that.

      A part of me can even understand your view. These characters are interesting and have potential to make a gripping drama. I just think stylistic choices hold them back.

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