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Going Back to Fairhaven

Fairhaven, the directorial debut from writer/director/actor Tom O'Brien is out in theaters this week. The critical reception has been lukewarm so far, with the primary complaints being an abundance of indie cliches (whatever those are) and an underwritten, uneventful script. Whatever, I liked Fairhaven's stable of dissatisfied 30ish males and the strained, long-neglected bonds between them a lot when I saw it at last year's Tribeca Film Festival. If you like "indie" movies, maybe you will too!

Here's what I wrote about it in April 2012.

What a bunch of indie cliches!

Back-in-town stories follow a very natural pattern. A character returns to their hometown, they meet up with old friends, they make some new ones, they see a family that they’re estranged from (officially or unofficially), and then they leave (if they’re John Cusack, they take Minnie Driver with them). The fact that Fairhaven never actually makes it to that last part is a good indication of the value that writer/director Tom O’Brien places on plot. What it lacks in story though, Fairhaven makes up for in atmosphere and chemistry.

Fairhaven is centered on the homecoming of Dave, played by Chris Messina. Dave is returning to Fairhaven, Mass. for the first time in 10 years to attend his father’s funeral, an event he considered skipping. When Dave suddenly fled a decade ago, he left behind friends Jon (O’Brien) and Sam (Rich Sommer aka Mad Men’s Harry Crane). Dave and Jon compete for leading man duties, which gives Fairhaven a nice balance between the guy who left and the one who stayed.

All three of the friends have things going on (Dave has to confront his feelings about his father, Jon wants to get his stagnant writing career off the ground, Sam is busy selling real estate and raising his daughter with his ex-wife Sarah Paulson), and there is a revelation about why Dave left town which hangs over the rest of the movie. Despite all that story stuff that looks good in press releases, Fairhaven is about reconnecting with people. The three friends quickly fall into a familiar pattern of ribbing each other and engaging in some recreational drinking and drugging. Their behavior provides Fairhaven with plenty of laughs, but also subtly reveals things about the characters and their relationships.

Eventually, O’Brien’s script just sort of putters out, but closure isn’t really necessary for these back-in-town stories. That natural story arc provides its own beginning, middle and end (even if they never actually get to the end). O’Brien wisely keeps things moving. In 80 minutes, we get a strong sense of the three main characters and see them interact with a wide range of Fairhaven’s residents, from parents to therapists to strippers.

O’Brien nails the energy of a homecoming, and Fairhaven proves to be quite intoxicating for those susceptible to such a bittersweet event. I am, so it totally won me over. The lack of a strong finish may leave some wanting more, but there’s really not much to do with these characters that would remain true to the movie. Their stories are ongoing, and there’s actually more closure this time than when Dave last left town. If we're lucky, maybe they'll get together in another 10 years. Regardless, Fairhaven is a fine addition to the homecoming movie tradition.

VERDICT:  See it.

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