Performance Art, by David Bax

30 Sep

For the record, a DVD of this film was sent to us to review by a company looking to gain more exposure. Really, that’s why anyone allows us to review anything but these folks were pretty forward and honest about it, at least. I only mention it because the process was backwards from the way it usually goes. Instead of my asking permission to see something in advance, I was asked to do so first. All this is to say that I’m glad the distributor reached out to me because if they hadn’t, who knows if I’d ever have gotten to see Missing Pieces, a film that has a handful of problems but is ultimately a rewarding viewing experience and a promise of interesting things to come from the director, Kenton Bartlett.

The story revolves chiefly around a man named David, played by character actor Mark Boone Junior. Sometime before the events of the film, David was in a car accident that left him slightly brain damaged. His different and erratic behavior as a result has driven away his girlfriend, an artist named Delia played by the always wonderful Melora Walters. In an attempt to get her back, David devises a long-term art project that involves kidnapping two young people, forcing them into faux-romantic situations and studying them.

Boone and Walters are, of course, strong presences and talented actors. This low-budget film was very fortunate to get them on board. But the real surprises are the two young actors, Taylor Engel as Maggie and Daniel Hassen as Daylen. A film made the way this one was, over the course of years, pieced together by volunteers and whatever free time could be grabbed, usually has to settle for what it can get. Perhaps the filmmakers were simply lucky to find Engel and Hassen or perhaps it’s a testament to Bartlett’s skill with performers but these two are warmly naturalistic, heartbreaking, funny and generally likable. The movie is a great deal improved by their being in it.

Another positive aspect , one that will likely strike viewers more immediately, is the cinematography. Jonathan Arturo finds beauty in the mundane as well as seemingly locating extra beauty in the already appealing. His compositions are striking; precise without ever feeling staged. This look, along with a lovely score and a heavy presence of lyrical editing form to create a mood of languid, almost comforting, sadness that is sustained admirably for the film’s nearly two hour run time.

These elements and the performances help to obscure the fact that, at its core, the story is rather contrived. The notion that David could continue this dreadfully illegal project for as long and as publicly as he does without being caught would be distracting if the film allowed you time to ponder it. Luckily, Bartlett does the smart thing by focusing on characters and tone. He also provides a welcome distraction by telling the story in a non-linear fashion. This is not done in a clever or gimmicky way but in one that reflects the state of David’s inner life. The movie is interested in its other characters too, following them down narrative side streets and exploring their work and family lives.

As stated above, this is a film well worth the time investment, not only because it’s a good movie in itself but because supporting it could help the filmmakers to create more good movies. There’s enough promise in Missing Pieces to make the idea of future projects a very enticing one.

You can find out about the movie and even find a link to watch it online at

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