"Slipaway," the touching story of an unlikely friendship, works thanks to a warm performance from Elaine Partnow. First-time feature directors Julia Butler and Daniel Mentz have made a sunlit film that will win over less-cynical audiences.
Aging widow Fall (Partnow) finds joy wherever she goes, from the aisles of the local supermarket to the melody she hears grumpy busker Adam (Jesse Pepe) playing in the park. She offers to pay him for piano lessons, and his desperation leads him to teach her on the Slipaway, the docked boat where she lives. Fall's happiness is contagious, but Adam's past threatens to unravel the work she is doing to improve his life in the present.
Cinematographer Yash Khanna brings a cheery eye to the drama, with shots filled with bright sunshine and colors. "Slipaway" is a small film from freshman filmmakers, but it looks like work from a more seasoned team, with some of the credit due to Partnow. She feels entirely genuine, exuding contentment and delight, but she's also deft with some of the more challenging emotions that Fall experiences. As Adam, Pepe feels less natural, but his performance improves later in the film when he's able to do more than glower.
"Slipaway" is a simple and sweet film, occasionally to a fault, but Partnow is a revelation. The material could feel manipulative, but she convinces viewers that every moment is real.
Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino