Whether the blame goes to director Greg Harrison (Groove) or writer Benjamin Brand, here with his first original script to hit the big screen, November is a pileup of stylistic audio and visual gimmicks and special effects, all in need of compelling characters and a story to hook us. Avant-gardists and other brave souls may get in line, but November, unless brilliantly marketed ("Courteney gets serious!"), won't generate the word of mouth needed for meaningful indie grosses.
With segments introduced by portentous intertitles that disorient rather than orient, the narrative unfolds, zigzags and jerks back to convey the story and states of mind of Sophie (Courteney Cox), an apparently up-and-coming photographer and college teacher who tragically loses boyfriend Hugh (James Le Gros) when he is murdered during a convenience-store robbery.
The film is a hodgepodge of different schematically plotted photographic looks (blue-tint, green-tint, normal; abstract, grainy or crisp realistic shots) and emphatic sound design. Such stylistic flourishes are meant to convey Sophie's unstable mental state and her different levels of perception and reality. What they really do is remind how sound can have as much visceral effect as visuals.
But these shifts also confuse, as do the different versions of the story that unfold, including such visual "clues" as the hole in the wall of Sophie and Hugh's apartment that have no payoff.
We follow Sophie as the trauma of the tragedy drives her to Dr. Fayn (Nora Dunn), a shrink short on feedback and maybe accreditation. We learn that, prior to the murder, Sophie met Hugh when she photographed him and that she moved into his apartment. Later in the relationship, Sophie cheated on Hugh with co-worker Jesse (Michael Ealy) and was doing so at the time of Hugh's demise.
There are also Sophie's annoying mother (Anne Archer), who lunches with her daughter at upscale restaurants, and resourceful Officer Roberts (Nick Offerman), who pops up whenever he pleases to query Sophie about the robbery and murder.
For her students, Sophie uses slides to teach photography. The plot thickens when a mysterious slide shows up that appears to have been taken at the convenience store on the night of the robbery and murders. Who could have taken the photo and how did it end up in the carousel? Answers here don't come easy.
With so much obfuscation and attention given style over content, characters, story, clarity, payoffs and emotional life, November won't be much more than a month on calendars. IFC and John Sloss' InDiGent is a great idea to get high-quality, low-budget DV narrative features onto the big screen. All they need is films with great ideas well-executed.