In Alexander Payne's "Nebraska," comedian Will Forte surprised audiences by playing the straight man to Bruce Dern and June Squibb's slightly unhinged cranks. For his follow-up performance in director Steph Green's luminous and lovely "Run and Jump," Forte reinvents himself yet again, this time as a convincing romantic lead.
And though Forte might be the draw, veteran British actress Maxine Peake is the showstopper of Green's family drama set in Ireland. Peake is charisma incarnate as Vanetia, a thirtysomething mother of two who allows her stroke-victim husband Conor (Edward MacLiam) to be observed by a buttoned-up American neuropsychologist, Ted (Forte).
Conor's illness leaves him unable to work, speak or parent — a situation that leaves the generally sunny Vanetia struggling to maintain her senses of humor and self. In a small, delightful scene, she wards off despair through "laughter yoga" — methodically making clown faces until the ridiculousness of her "exercise" forces her to laugh at herself.
Vanetia and Ted's friendship slowly develops into an unconsummated romance, with a tangle of complications — Vanetia and Ted's guilt, the children's confusion, Conor's parents feelings of abandonment on behalf of their son. Green's resolution is sensitive, expected, yet visionary. And, like the rest of the film, it is shot with a magnificent play of color and light that makes the characters' corner of the world seem like the cradle of compassion.
'Run and Jump'
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.
Playing: At Sundance Sunset Cinemas, West Hollywood. Also on VOD.