Film Review: Around June

This study of the interactive lives of a bunch of dreamers—although the cynical might dismiss them as mere losers—is sensitive to a fault, but not much fun to watch.

The winsome spirit of the film Marty—dealing with small lives of quiet desperation—endures in a multitude of indie movies, like James Savoca’s Around June. His titular character (Samaire Armstrong, looking like a cross between Jenna Elfman and Claire Danes) is a lonely lass who toils at a San Francisco diner while tending to her simple-minded Uncle Henry (indie regular Brad William Henke), who (very slowly) narrates this tale and is no problem for her, and her drunken, abusive father, Murry (Jon Gries), who most definitely is.

Murry is one mean racist and a deceptive dude, but June is a whimsical waif who escapes by frolicking in the rain. One day, she encounters Juan Diego (Oscar Guerrero), a penniless, illegal immigrant whose ultra-gentle shyness matches her own. Henry happily abets their romance, over the strenuous objections of Murry, and, with Juan Diego’s loving support, June eventually becomes empowered enough to gain her own independence, as both fully reveal themselves to each other.

Savoca obviously has deep affection for the characters he’s wrought, but, unfortunately, that is not enough to hold one’s interest, despite all the scruffy poetry he makes them say. “Every day was like a raindrop… Time stood still,” intones narrator Henry and, watching this film, you may feel the same way. “Juan Diego taught me about colors,” he adds. “Colors have feelings. Like red can be angry.”

Henry and June are nature-loving types who verbally greet the trees and the ocean each morning, and your enjoyment of them largely depends on your tolerance for this kind of stuff. It’s all calculated to sneak into, and break, your heart, with a busily sensitive music score that is more than a tad pushy. The characters endlessly reveal themselves in protracted anecdotes (some of them animated) and sad reminiscences (one of which is right out of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?) that explain their present-day, oh-so-tentative and hushed behavior. It’s the kind of conceit the great cinematic romanticist Frank Borzage did so well decades ago, with his simple yet affecting, gamine-driven romances in poverty like Seventh Heaven, Street Angel and A Man’s Castle, but the time seems long past for these things, especially when not enlivened by anything approximating onscreen excitement.

The actors do their best with the material given, but I’d prefer to see any of them in something grittier and truly involving.