A lovely performance by Zoe Kanters elevates “Up There,” an otherwise unremarkable low-budget film about a journalist looking to make his big break in a small town.
Assigned by his crusty editor (Kirk Fox) to cover the shuttering of an iron mine in a sleepy town on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Jack Cohen (Daniel Weingarten), an ambitious newspaper reporter with an expensive haircut, is finding it difficult to get the locals to open up to a smug city boy.
The one notable exception is quirky/perky resident Emma Ellis (Kanters), who isn’t exactly incorrect in saying her name rhymes with “overzealous,” but that big-hearted exuberance turns out to mask a tragic backstory that Jack soon realizes would make a much more interesting read than another piece about a boring old mine.
Co-directed by actor-comedians Weingarten and Michael Blaustein, who plays Emma’s over-protective, military vet brother, Champ, this first-feature has its share of issues, including evident technical challenges, an improbable ending and an unsympathetic protagonist who never convincingly conveys his character’s audience mandated redemption.
But cutting through the small-town cliche clutter is Kanters’ deeply felt turn — one which unsurprisingly is informed by an incident in her own life that forms the basis of the script she penned along with the two directors — that serves as a genuinely moving portrait of an individual straddling a very delicate line between crippling trauma and mental illness.
Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes
Playing: Starts Oct. 11, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills