Arlene (Joan Allen) and Charley (Sam Elliott) are a couple of Bohemian artists who live an existence without the need for a great deal of money. Arlene grows all their vegetables (and believes in gardening in the nude) and home-schools their daughter Bo (Valentina d'Angelis).
Charley is a painter, but bouts of depression render him practically helpless. Bo enjoys hunting, fishing, and scamming companies into sending her free samples of candy and other goodies - her life would be complete if she could just get her own credit card and she could get people to call her Cecilia Rose.
George (J.K. Simmons) is the family friend who steps in and lends a hand whenever Charley gets into one of his funks, even if it means going to see the psychiatrist for Charley.
When an IRS auditor, William Gibbs (Jim True-Frost), comes to their home to discuss some back taxes, he gets caught up in the freedom and easy-going life and stays on for a while (longer than you need to store tax records) to get in touch with his artistic self. This visit leaves everyone with a new outlook on life.
The characters are vivid, even the secondary ones who only appear in a scene or two. The rich flavor of New Mexico is brought to life - imagine a place where you can see the face of Jesus in a tortilla down at the Taco Stand, a beautiful coyote, magic healing powers, balloon fests, a painting that's 20 inches high and 41 feet wide, and a first day of school that will bring sheer joy to your heart.
Bo steals the show in this film; she has incredible screen magnetism and a natural talent. Her character has such an imagination and she delivers the lines with honesty (even the outrageous ones). She's also incredibly cute. This is a different role for Joan Allen, but she thrives as the free-spirited gardener.
Funny, poignant, precious moments - this is a wonderful story with wonderful people in realistic relationships. Campbell Scott directs with a light touch, flowing from one scene to the next with an ease that never interferes, but manages to capture the magic of every moment (the shot of everyone on the sailboat is magnificent).
Off the map is New Mexico, this American state where the landscapes evoke desolation and empty stretches as far as the eye can see. Difficult to find an isolated house hidden behind the cacti, yet so near to the road and modern civilization. Off the map is this marginal family with the timeless choices of life. With an annual income of less than $5,000 dollars, the Grodens have chosen the fold. No running water, telephone or electricity; the return to bartering, hunting and gathering to provide for their needs. Difficult for the tax collector to find them under these conditions. Rousseau you say? Voltaire? Does everything go better in the Brave New World? No, unfortunately.
The father Charlie suffers from an evil of unknown causes: depression. A true laconic crybaby, this destroyed man who spends his days drinking water (because from crying, he has no liquid in him, sic), sleeping, or disappearing is, however, well-surrounded. First there's his wife, loving, patient and attentive (the masterful Joan Allen). Then comes George, his best friend, simple but so obliging.
Finally, Bo the teenage girl: bright, resourceful, crafty and sometime more mature than the adults (Valentina de Angelis, a revelation to be followed closely, literally takes over the screen with her presence). Her adult voice-over accompanies the audience in the account of her memories, marked by all the details that render her life so distinctive.
If she dreams of fleeing this life of exiles and to nourish her insatiable curiosity by discovering the world, she never surrenders, and her energy constitutes an essential element to the balance of the family unit. When William arrives, a tax collector as depressed as Charlie, she only sees a link to the external world. A link who ends up staying in her world. William falls in love, starts to paint (and becomes famous), and in short forgets what he came for.
Is this little piece of fragile happiness contagious? Undoubtedly. While this little life isn't in the end true happiness, it doesn't have anything to be envious of in the tumult of urban life. So that we end up subscribing to that way of life. The audience takes the outstretched hand of these characters and lets everything go, following the example of Bo plunging her thoughts into William's paintings, to dream, to traverse the landscapes and to be filled with wonder at the colors.
The colors of photography sing nostalgia, rhythm to the light touches of the painter's brush. And when the salvaged accordion from the dump is played, one is silent and almost wants to close his eyes. To see what? The curve of the horizon: where the sky marries the sea or the sand of the desert in a festival of colors. - Moland Fengkov