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Review: Karen Allen gives the performance of a lifetime in ‘Colewell’

Karen Allen stars as a beloved post office clerk, Nora, in the Film Independent Spirit Award nominated film ‘Colewell.’
Karen Allen stars as a beloved post office clerk, Nora, in the Film Independent Spirit Award-nominated film “Colewell.”
(Gravitas Ventures)

Quotidian grace flows like a tranquil river through Tom Quinn’s “Colewell,” a drama as endearingly demure as its leading lady. Serene in mode, this character study draws its force from a deeply felt humanistic curiosity for someone who exists in the backdrop of life.

Running a one-woman office for the U.S. Postal Service, Nora (Karen Allen) has planted unmovable roots in the minuscule and rural town of Colewell, Pa. Beyond sorting postcards from Europe and dealing with oversized parcels, her position as a dependable source of community is essential. As such, loyal patrons rally to support her when the institution determines her services have an end date.

Moments as small as cracking an egg for breakfast, making coffee for a friend, putting candy out for customers or cooking dinner for one, are charged with a dutiful and lived-in cadence. Nora’s vocation and identity, it’s clear, have merged so much that she confesses her uneasiness at engaging people outside of her postmaster persona.

Change-averse in older age, she was once a free-spirited traveler fearful of feeling stuck. Starting over now — in her 60s and in a different location — may condemn her to crushing solitude. Gravitas in hand, Quinn makes certain her personal plight resonates as if it carried the highest of stakes — like when she hides out of sight as townspeople discuss her future — because for Nora it does.

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Allen, an actress who made her name in “Animal House” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” waited several decades for a part where her unassuming excellence could glow, and “Colewell” finally granted her the platform for the most remarkable onscreen rendition of her career. Contemplative, her longing stare extends beyond the nearby fields and into the past.

There’s a touch of magic realism when Nora is confronted with Ella (Hannah Gross), a hitchhiker from an unknown origin. Kindred in their observant demeanor, words are weightless for both women when expressive faces do all their emotional talking.

With keen sensibilities for eliciting melancholy out of modest landscapes, cinematographer Paul Yee (“The Fits”) imbues cinematic panache into otherwise mundane scenery, and warm music accentuates the film’s introspection.

Not as indispensable as she had assumed, Nora ultimately navigates a hurtful strait between despair and discovering how adaptable humans can be. Occasionally a tad too reflective, Quinn’s pacing and controlled conflict requires an adjustment for viewers, but as “Colewell” sinks in, it reveals itself as the cinematic equivalent of a deep exhale after having attained peace within.

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‘Colewell’
Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 19 minutes

Playing: Galaxy Mission Grove; available on demand Dec. 13


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