Color, 2011, 59m.
Directed by Hal Hartley
Starring D.J. Mendel, Danielle Meyer, Pallavi Sastry, Chelsea Crowe, Miho Nikaido
Olive Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Possible Films (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Following the completion of 2006's Fay Grim, indie director Hal Hartley took a five-year break from feature films in which he instead turned out a handful of adventurous short films and built up the distribution of his work through his Possible Films company. His increasingly odd genre experimentation in his full-length movies (especially The Girl from Monday and No Such Thing) had proven baffling with many of his fans who longed for the more modest, quirky, approachable atmosphere of his earlier films like Trust and Simple Men, and that's what they got when he ventured back into longer form filmmaking again in 2011 with Meanwhile.
Taking its title from one of the many amusing title cards in his first film, The Unbelievable Truth, Meanwhile falls in with Hartley's almost-but-not-quite feature films like Surviving Desire and Book of Life, which run under an hour but feel like movies anyway. Essentially it's a combination of a mundane, day-long trek through the diverse neighborhoods of New York and a character study of Joe (Hartley regular Mendel), a handy fix-it guy with a knack for dealing with the everyday problems of others but can't seem to catch a break himself. Tossed out of his girlfriend's apartment, he finds himself looking for a place to stay and unable to get his money after the IRS freezes his bank account (over $200 owed five years ago). He remains positive throughout the day as he helps out others on the way uptown where he follows a lead to get an apartment.
Plot definitely isn't the focus here; instead we have a colorful slice of life with some of the most meta touches in any Hartley film to date, including cutaways to Possible Films (where Joe has submitted a book called, yes, Meanwhile), and there's even a role for Hartley's wife, Miho Nikaido, playing herself. The star of the controversial Japanese film Tokyo Decadence, Nikaido went on to appear in the third segment of Hartley's Flirt and married him one year later. As usual, music plays a large part here with Mendel even stopping to drum in a couple of numbers. For film fans, there's also the loose connecting device of Joe looking for a woman in a red jacket, which recalls Don't Look Now in more than a couple of ways (but to say more would spoil the fun). And then there are the locations, which will probably turn out to be a valuable time capsule in years to come as the camera captures street shots bound to change dramatically as time marches on.
Most likely due to the running time, Meanwhile wasn't really destined for a theatrical release; instead, the digitally shot production was independently released on DVD by Hartley himself in 2011. However, the 2013 Blu-ray from Olive Films is really the way to go as it shows off the crisp, classy photography to its best advantage. The format's limitations are evident in some of the wider exterior shots, but 99% of the time it's a great-looking film with the director's usual fascinating eye for color compositions. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix also sounds very good; you won't get any flashy split surround effects here, but the music sounds vibrant and the ambient city noise creates a convincing environment. Two extras are included, a three-minute trailer and "The Everyday," a 15-minute featurette about the making of the film with Hartley, Mendel and company chatting about their conceptions of the project.
Reviewed on August 25, 2013.