26 March 2004 | Nick_Dets
A Remarkable Debut!
Matthew Coppola's 2000 directorial debut is a frustrating, but fascinating art film. Yes it is a tad uneven, and there are multiple flaws, but if I saw anything in this film, it was Coppola's arresting poetic vision. "Fresh Cut Grass" conveys a filmmaker on the road to greatness.
David Wilke plays Zac, a college graduate who knows his life is at a crossroads, but tries hard to let time stand still in one unforgettable summer. He reprises an old lawn mowing job, meeting up again with his fowl co-workers who shine in some of the film's funniest moments. New recruits are working as well, and are outcast because of their Mexican race...in a crucial subplot, Zac consoles one of these men and is granted some golden advice in return.
The real story kicks in when Zac meets the gorgeous Eastern, ironically named after a storm. She is obviously annoyed with the vulgarity of normal guys and in their first meeting she is clearly comforted by Zac. There is a distinct realism in their relationship; their first encounters ring abnormally true. After they get to know each other better, we learn of grief-filled traumas that the two have been faced with, and they ultimately help each other out. If anything, being with each other helps them escape these memories.
A lesser director would have been comfortable with the film remaining in a romantic tone, but Coppola has a lot of tricks up his sleeve. Themes of death, pain, abuse, uncertainty and love are all delt with in a passionate if not always balanced manner. This is far more ambitious than the standard romance film. It is highly original, but I would make a comparison to James Savoca's `Sleepwalk'.
Right off the bat, Coppola eases into his story with grand shots of the suburban paradise Zac retreats into. He is good with capturing this feel of a temporary Shangri-La (look for the symbolic shots of Zac starting up his lawn mower). By the end, I was intoxicated with the beautiful atmosphere that could only be found in an independent film.
The technical values need work, and I'm sure a bigger budget would have boosted this greatly. There are scenes with some honestly terrible lighting, and the DP certainly had trouble with night shots. There is some mismatched music that makes some scenes feel awkward, and simply didn't fit.
Another thing I didn't like were some fantasy sequences that felt clumsy. Zac is interviewed on a metaphorical field of grass as to what he plans to do with his future. In every fantasy, he has a new career. These scenes were far too obvious to convey Zac's doubtful future, and they felt like something I would watch in my high school.
I would strongly recommend `Fresh Cut Grass', however, for its daring turns and artful visual style. Look for a sequence that beautifully orchestrates Zac's struggle for oneness with himself as he wanders through the woods high off mushrooms. The conclusion of this particular scene is breathtaking. Watch this film for Copolla's dreamy vision, and try not to let the film's noticeable flaws get in the way.
(3 and ½ out of 4)