Music's at the core of uber-indie I Used to Be Darker

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Starring Deragh Campbell. Rating unavailable.

Films don’t get much more indie than I Used To Be Darker. The title refers, cryptically, to an apt song from alt-folkie Bill Callahan. Anyway, almost everyone is darker than strawberry-blond Taryn (newcomer Deragh Campbell), a soft-spoken Northern Irish teen who has washed up in sunny, suburban Baltimore to visit her American aunt.

She’s getting away from a summer romance gone bad, and also avoiding her mother back home, who thinks she’s in Wales. But Taryn’s timing stinks. Aunt Kim (Kim Taylor) has just left long-time husband Bill (Ned Oldham), for reasons never explained. “Maybe you’ll become more creative,” she admonishes, not long before she comes back, new boyfriend in tow, to clear out most of their musical gear.

Most cast members are nonprofessionals, although several are veteran musicians, so the inclusion of whole numbers sung and played by them, in situations both public and very private, adds much to the integrity of the characters—especially because the songs are good, heartfelt, and relevant to what’s going on. The ex-couple’s grown daughter, Abby, is unsettled by the unexpected break-up and takes it out on her cousin. She’s played by Hannah Gross, daughter of Canadian stalwarts Paul Gross and Martha Burns, and the film’s most experienced actor. Yet she remains its most unconvincing presence. (Whether this is due to her limitations or the brittleness of the character is hard to tell.) After the fight with Abby, Taryn leaves Bill’s deluxe abode to go boho with Kim, and joins her band on a short road trip, with some fallout for everyone involved. That’s pretty much it.

Writer-director Matthew Porterfield went even more impressionistic with his most recent feature, Putty Hill, which was more of a murmur than a movie. Here, he lets you slowly gather what the characters are only figuring out about themselves. But there’s still vagueness to the story (and murkiness to the dialogue) that makes viewers lean in a bit further than they might want to go.

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