Unconformity is the story of Alex, a rock-climbing geologist.
Too bad the movie never soars too high, or digs too deep.
An inoffensive, but not particularly memorable drama, the film begins with Alex, a doctoral student, facing personal and professional crises. A seemingly friendly classmate has stolen her ideas; her advisor is exploiting her work. Clearly, it’s time for a break.
So, she heads into the Nevada desert to scamper up mountains, dig for fossils, and figure things out.
Oh, and meet a young rancher.
Unconformity is a nice-looking movie, with plenty of pretty scenes of the high desert, but it needs to get over itself a bit. Although it seems determined to be quiet and serious, it’s basically the indie version of a Hallmark holiday picture.
You know the template: Stressed out by the big city, a young professional goes rural. There, she discovers the wonder of small-town values, and the attractiveness of guys in work shirts. Despite a few, clumsily engineered disagreements in Act II, everything ends with a hug, and a dawning realization that maybe it’s time to give small-town life a try.
This is, of course, something the people making these movies rarely believe themselves – if they did, they would have stayed home and never gone to Hollywood to get into the business – but it’s helped create dozens of mild, female-centric fantasies that play to big-city doubts and re-enforce small-town pride.
What really makes those movies work, however, are a few successfully comedic or dramatic scenes and a charismatic star. Unconformity has neither. None of the conflicts really develop into anything. And as Alex, Alex Oliver is pretty but bland; the few times she’s required to express anger, you can almost see the actress thinking the scene through.
There’s also no real sign of attraction, let alone passion, between her and the local rancher. But then, perhaps there’s not supposed to be? Although they have a “meet-cute” (sort of – he stumbles into her while she’s battling food poisoning), and seem interested in each other, it never seems clear if these two are just friends, or if one or both of them are looking for something more.
That may be mostly the actor’s fault. With his shaggy, center-parted hair and sloppy hoodies, Jack Mulhern doesn’t look like a Nevada cowboy; he looks like some suburban stoner teen, fresh from cutting class and vaping in the boys’ room. The two just don’t convince, as friends or lovers – but since neither really convinces as a character, that was probably inevitable.
The film has things to recommend it. Jeremy Holm is a believably craggy and close-mouthed presence as Mulhern’s father, an up-against-the-wall rancher facing debts and drought. The script takes a refreshingly even-handed view of the fractious fights over grazing rights and Federal land issues. And when the film stops – not often enough – to look around, it can remind us what an extraordinary land we live in.
Too bad it didn’t find any extraordinary people.