' Cinema Romantico: Small Beautifully Moving Parts

Monday, September 09, 2013

Small Beautifully Moving Parts

Sarah Sparks (Anna Margaret Hollyman) is at the Grand Canyon on a western road trip and she gets out of her rental minivan to use her electric toothbrush. She flips it on. We hear the familiar whirring. Then the familiar whirring begins to die. It dies completely. Sarah Sparks is forced to brush her teeth……manually. Egads.

Technology, however tiny and day-to-day, is at the root of the aptly named “Small Beautifully Moving Parts”, a 72 minute severe indie. And even if the title did not clue us into the topic, we would understand straight away when Sarah, who apparently earns a living as a “researcher”, interviews random people on the street about the presence of technology of our lives. Three times the film returns to this device which assists us each time in understanding Sarah’s mental state and the movie’s aim. It is frustratingly inorganic and while I would like to chalk it up to co-directors/writers Annie Howell and Lisa Robinson underscoring how inorganic our technology-charged lives are, well, I know better.


Annie and her husband Leon (Andre Holland) have just learned she is pregnant. Her reaction is not exactly, shall we say, joyous, but nor is it depression. Perhaps the word for which we are looking is confusion. After all, technology is her field, not anthropology. And yet, all around her technological problems yield human freak-outs. Her sister’s (Sarah Rafferty) attempt to potty train her daughter goes awry when their potty-training doll suffers a mechanical breakdown. (How did people in the colonial era potty-train their children without the luxury of potty-training dolls?). Her father’s skype conversation with his lady friend whom he’s never met in person goes awry when his microphone cuts out. And Sarah’s journey to find her estranged mother takes a few detours when the GPS in her rental van cuts out.

Did I mention Sarah was estranged from her mother? Well, of course she is. And before the birth of her own daughter Sarah wants the chance not to re-connect with her mother, per se, but just to see her mother and ask “Why?” for any number of reasons. Her mother, however, has gone off the grid, somewhere in the desert of Nevada where they have no phones or email.

You see what’s going on here. I’m not referring to Sarah and her mother’s inevitable tete-a-tete. You expect the inevitable tete-a-tete to be enlightening and instead it is just brutally, if politely, honest. Answers? You want answers? There are no stinkin’ answers. You ask the question and then make a guess based on your own hypothesis, that’s your answer. No, I’m referring to the film’s examination of our over-reliance on technology.

This is a worthy topic of cinematic exploration and even if “Small Beautifully Moving Parts” is often too on the nose about it (witness the sequence that leads to Sarah and her mother’s inevitable tete-a-tete), well, hey, it gets the ball rolling.

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