On Christmas Eve, Morvern Callar (Samantha Morton, "Sweet and Lowdown") wakes up to find her boyfriend has committed suicide in the kitchen of their Glasgow apartment. After the requisite tears and the opening of the suicide letter, Morvern sees that her lover has left behind his unpublished novel, with his last wish being that she try to find a publisher and sell it. For the 21-year-old supermarket clerk, the choice is clear. Morvern places her name on the manuscript and uses the funeral money to travel to Spain with her friend, Lanna (Kathleen McDermott), to process these life-changing events.
Lynn Ramsay's "Morvern Callar" (IMDb listing) isn't a story of a young woman's mourning period, nor is it a tale of the breath of life taken after a loved one dies. The film is more gelatinous than that, using heaps of environment and silent atmosphere to connect a journey for the title character from shrewish minimum-wage slave to well-researched free bird. I can't say with all my heart that I was completely taken with the free form, almost jazz-like design used by Ramsay, as the film is based on a novel by Alan Warner. Because of this, Ramsay uses the novel's structure as a starting point, and as a denouement, with the meaty in-between as a platform for more abstract odysseys with Morvern that range from David Lynchian bizarreness to Adrian Lyne-style sexual heat. These interludes, backed ingeniously with selections from a mix tape the boyfriend left for Morvern, provide ample eye candy, but precious little emotional punch. And emotion is what "Morvern Callar" desperately needs. Ramsay isn't a strong enough filmmaker (this is her second feature film) to make the character and emotional connections ring any more directly than in a noticeable, art-film type way. And in the end I would've rather had the film offer something more cohesive or telling than just having Morvern stare into the camera, especially when the film is bookended by such strong, welcomed structure.
Of course, if there must be an actress hired to convey so much emotional landscape in a stare, Ramsay does the film a great favor by bringing the deeply talented Samantha Morton into the fold. Morton is fearless in "Morvern," using her silent fury to explore the vastness Ramsay has allotted to her character. Morton keeps the film running along quickly, even when the film itself clearly wants to lie down and take a nap. There is little dialog for the actress to work with -- mostly silent moments of thinking and gazing -- but somehow she uses this time wonderfully, detailing a rich character out of very little.
Because of Morton, "Morvern Callar" achieves a kind of soft, relaxing tempo that can be fun on a mellow Saturday afternoon. Ramsay had a better film in her hands at one point, but her need to keep a liquid flow to the picture keeps this film about a free spirit oddly grounded.
Filmfodder Grade: B