Purposefully languidly paced, Amanda Marsalis’s Echo Park is a lovely little jaunt into the lives of two people meeting at a crossroads in their respective lives. Aside from some rougher edges that come with the territory of directing a first feature length film, Marsalis’s film is confident in its tone and allows its two main characters to lead the way in the slower moments.
Sophie (Mamie Gummer) has just made the impulsive decision to leave her long term boyfriend due to a long developing emotional gulf and finds residence in Echo Park where she meets Alex (Anthony Okungbowa). Kind hearted, Alex is about to move back to Britain for his job, leaving behind a house and a small community of friends he’s learned to call his home. Echo Park offers an intimate snapshot at the smaller moments in between making big, potentially life altering decisions and discoveries, giving credence to the notion that the fun is in the journey, rather than the destination.
The film falters slightly only when it seems unsure of what to do with the time allotted them. The camera will linger a beat longer than necessary, creating an awkwardness between the viewer and what’s happening onscreen as we wait for the transition. That accompanied with the sometimes stilted dialogue creates a dissonance between the gorgeously rendered and confident directions and the less sturdy character development.
Gummer and Okungbowa carry any slack necessary, developing a nice, casual chemistry in a few scenes, and Okungbowa is a particular discovery. In a fair industry he’d be picked up for further films. He has a specific talent and lights up the screen each time he appears. He conveys a deep sense of empathy for the characters around him, demonstrating just why his friends would feel such a loss at the idea of him leaving, while also carrying around his own bag of flaws. A little judgmental and pretentious, rather than being a detriment to the character and his “likability” factor, it ends up building upon the character and his development.
Sophie, while played with a lovely touch of realism by Gummer, suffers only because despite being the lead in the film, she never seems to be drawn as well as her counterpart. We need a little more justification to truly understand her motives.
It matters little however when you consider the chemistry between both parties. Subdued, it inspires the feeling that these characters had known each other for a very long time compared to the relative brevity of their relationship. Despite the fact that the film clearly is aiming to be more than a romance, it flourishes in the scenes where Sophie and Alex are simply soaking up one another company.
Marsalis has a deft hand and keen eyes for finding beauty in everyday locations and brings Echo Park alive with her shots, regardless of the backdrop. It a small scale story with small scale consequences but it’s brought to life with very lived in and tangible visuals. As characters sit on their front steps and drink coffee or in outdoor cafes, it’s not difficult to imagine the humid breeze.
Echo Park has been released through director Ava DuVernay’s distribution company Array Now, and it’s yet another film that demonstrates fresh faced and diverse talent ready to be picked for bigger projects. Despite the unease in cutting down the film, Echo Park demonstrates a filmmaker who knows what type of film they’re trying to achieve, and the execution is something beautiful.
Make sure to check this film out on Netflix or in any of theaters playing it in its limited release. Find dates and theaters here.