A grounded approach and genuine, witty script offsets the familiar plot of Give or Take — a character from the big city reevaluating his life after returning to his small hometown for a significant family event. New York City corporate drone Martin (the pensive Jamie Effros, who co-wrote the screenplay with director Paul Riccio) returns to his Cape Cod childhood home to prepare for his late father’s funeral. Much to everyone’s surprise, Martin’s father began dating a scrappy gardener named Ted (Broadway star Norbert Leo Butz) after his wife died. Now, Ted occupies the charming home of Martin’s youth. Butz is exceptional in the role, bringing the quirky humour he is known for in his stage roles and reaching emotional heights in his moving portrayal of grief.
Martin bristles at their relationship, not out of homophobia but the unrecognisable side of his father Ted exposes. The loving, artistic, emotionally vulnerable man Ted speaks of is completely at odds with the judgemental despot that ignored him for so many years. The tension between Martin and Ted splinters into moments of silliness and poignant drama. At the centre of their squabbling is an overzealous real estate agent Patty King (the hilarious Cheri Oteri), who insists that Martin sell his house to a preppy cash buyer for over a million dollars. Ted wants to stay in the place where he made wonderful memories with his lover, but Martin is hesitant to let Ted keep what is rightfully his to sell. The film presents both sides of their argument with a delicate empathy.
When not quarrelling with Ted, Martin reconnects with Emma (Joanne Tucker), his former teenage crush. She is the complete opposite of his high-maintenance girlfriend (Annapurna Sriram) back in the city. Her character easily could have easily fallen into the sexist stereotype of a vapid nag, but Sriram gives a committed performance and Riccio’s film approaches their relationship and its eventual dissolution with a warm, mature sensitivity. Another standout is Jaden Waldman as Colin, a quiet little boy from next door who hides in a garbage can filled with water. He and Martin begin a sweet friendship that the film ultimately abandons. If the boy is meant to be a reflection of Martin when he was younger, Give or Take does not make clear.
How do you grieve for a family member you had a strained relationship with? How do you reconcile someone’s else’s positive memories of them? These are some of the hard questions Give or Take asks. Riccio’s film is a touching depiction of bereavement and contemplation of identity. It reminds us that our parents are people who have their own ever-evolving lives. Backed by a bright, picturesque Cape Cod setting, Give or Take is a well-acted family dramedy with an authentic spirit.
Give or Take is currently doing the festival circuit around the US
by Caroline Madden
Caroline is the author of Springsteen as Soundtrack. Her favourite films include Dog Day Afternoon, Baby It’s You, Inside Llewyn Davis, and The Lord of the Rings. She is the Editor in Chief of Video Librarian. She has an MA degree in Cinema Studies from SCAD. You can follow her on Twitter @crolinss.