Film Review: Small, Beautifully Moving Parts

Highly agreeable, funny and bright study of a pregnant woman all at sea in a world where wireless options seem to outweigh human ones in her life.

Manhattanite Sarah (Anna Margaret Hollyman), an expectant mother, has decidedly mixed feelings about her pregnancy. Invited to a baby shower by her sister Emily (Sarah Rafferty), who happens to live in L.A., she decides to travel even further and locate her long-estranged mother Marjorie (Mary Beth Peil), who is living in some remote desert community. Although her lover Leon (Andre Holland) worries about her, she assures him she is just fine as she encounters her father Henry (Richard Hoag), who’s seriously embroiled in a Skype romance with a woman in Brazil he’s never actually met, and a variety of other folk, most of them besotted and befuddled by all forms of modern technology, at which Sarah is particularly adept.

If you’ve ever wondered if Skype, cell-phones, iPads, GPS mechanisms, remote controls, baby monitors and the like have completely taken over our lives at the expense of our humanity, Small, Beautifully Moving Parts is the movie for you. Filmmakers Annie J. Howell and Lisa Robinson have crafted a canny and funny disquisition on this theme that, while slight, is nevertheless extremely engaging and informed at all times by agreeable smarts. The elements—ambivalent, soon-to-be-mom, road trip, distant parents, etc.—are nothing new, of course, but Howell and Robinson’s observation of the complex, highly wired mishegas surrounding them assuredly is, and makes for some very relatable farce. The movie, suffused with sunshine, puts a smile on your face for most of its short length and leaves you wanting more, a rare quality these days.

Hollyman, who has the blank, slightly inexpressive prettiness of a Victorian doll, is quite engaging in her befuddlement by everything human around her. Tech stuff is no problem for her, however, and the film achieves a comic peak in scenes with her doofy dad, frantic over his long-distance love, while Sarah, with a flashlight strapped to her forehead, busies herself with the shoddy Skype connection under his desk. Haven’t we all frustratingly been there in some way? Rafferty is agreeably sharp as her sister and they make a convincing pair of complex, loving siblings. The lovely Peil has been unflatteringly photographed but telegraphs Marjorie’s neuroticism in an understated and rather radiantly resigned fashion. She’s entirely typical of a few generations of mixed-up Americans who have desperately escaped into the New Age haven of desert sunsets and meditation, which somehow only encourages their stunted selfishness. Holland, however, should have been given more to do besides just be Sarah’s too-perfect, wholly supportive partner, the very model of a strong black man Oprah would kvell over.