A film that wants badly to be a stream-of-consciousness poem cycle, based on Native-American writer-director Sherman Alexie's 1992 collection of short stories, verse and prose fragments of the same title. Alexie's directing debut combines flashbacks, images of dancers in traditional costumes and poetry (written and spoken) to examine the divided loyalties of Seymour Polatkin (Evan Adams), a successful writer whose heart remains on the Spokane Indian reservation he fled 16 years earlier. But as first-time filmmaker, Alexie might have been better served by conventional narrative structure; this string of fragmented scenes often feels trite and polemical. Seymour and his best friend, Aristotle Joseph (Gene Tagaban) the Joseph family is at the center of Chris Eyre's SMOKE SIGNALS (1998), based on Alexie's short stories and also starring Evan Adams both excelled in high school and went to Seattle's St. Jerome the Second College. Ari's seething anger at the white world led him home to the rez, where he stewed in alcohol and self-destructive rage, while Seymour channeled his inner turmoil, which included the realization that he was gay, into writing. Now he has a supportive boyfriend (Kevin Phillip), a thriving and lucrative career, and a terrific Seattle loft, but has lost touch with his old friends, including talented but troubled musician Mouse (Swil Kanim) and Agnes Roth (Michelle St. John), the half-Jewish girlfriend of his college years. After she and Seymour parted, the Jewish-identified Agnes embraced her Native American roots and moved back to the Spokane reservation to teach. Agnes calls with the news of Mouse's death, and Seymour's trip home for the wake brings him face to face with deeply conflicted feelings he thought he'd resolved, as well as a show of hometown hostility he never anticipated. He's accused of having broken faith with his oldest friends by rewriting their shared history, and of having been seduced by the rewards of "fancydancing," which seems to mean betraying your heritage and compromising your self-respect by assimilating. Issues of cultural identity form the backbone of both Alexie's writing and this shot-on-digital-video feature, and his approach is less than subtle: All too often, dramatic confrontations feel like barely dramatized debates. His actors aren't always cast to their best advantage the weathered Tagaban is stunningly unconvincing as an 18-year-old, while St. John's limited acting skills are offset by her glorious singing voice, which figures in a key scene.
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- Released: 2002
- Rating: NR
- Review: A film that wants badly to be a stream-of-consciousness poem cycle, based on Native-American writer-director Sherman Alexie's 1992 collection of short stories, verse and prose fragments of the same title. Alexie's directing debut combines flashbacks, image… (more)