Toronto 2015 Review: LEN AND COMPANY, A Confident Hanging-Out Movie
Len is not one of those men. Rhys Ifans' weathered, hang-dog looks and a reluctantly sensitive underbelly on a crusty exterior serve as a great starting point for a character (and a film) which aims to slowly unpack that feeling to recharge away from the hell of other people, and the lie that that feeling is.
A Lou Reed type of rocker, albeit a Brit, of the late 1960s who turned into a successful music producer, Len has dropped out of the public eye. Flipping the bird quite publicly to the establishment on the way out, he has retreated to his secluded upstate New York property to 'be alone.' This seems to involve listening to books on tape and watching Black Adder re-runs.
When Len's son Max (Palo Alto's Jack Kilmer) drives up to the house for the weekend, hoping Len will listen to his band's demo tape, but afraid to ask his father directly, an awkward dynamic is set in the house. This is exacerbated when Max observes the relationship that Len has with his maintenance boy, William, a local high-school student who genuinely enjoys keeping Len's place in some sort of working order. So, by the time Zoe (Juno Temple), the pop star whom Len just embarrassed on national television by walking off the stage and not accepting the statue for producing her wildly successful album, arrives, there is a complex array of eggshells for everyone to walk around on. Nobody understands Len, and Len understands nobody.
Temple can often be a wild-card or firebrand; her filmography is perhaps the most eclectic of any actress in her generation. (Fun fact: this is her third film with Rhys Ifans, but only the first time they share a scene together.) But the film is free of histrionics, or any semblance of high drama. Director Tim Godsall prefers the quiet rhythms of this unlikely household going about their daily non-routines as they gently, organically, nudge up against one another.
Although the circumstances have nothing in common, it reminded me of Tom McCarthy's The Station Agent, one of the great modern 'hanging out' movies. The living relationships are mostly platonic, and remain that way, preferring people to work out their anxieties and baggage slowly. And while there is certainly humour in Len And Company, in particular a visit to William's school on 'career day' that offers the chance for Len to lay out the 1960s music and drug scene with no language filters, the film opts out of scenery chewing or 'big moments' in favour of quiet pathos and practicality of co-existence between generations.
The image of three vehicles parked in the home's car-park, if automobiles are any window into personality, offers a quick image of the trio: Len's late 1960s Porche coupe that doesn't start, Max's gently dinged and scraped Volvo station wagon and Zoe's shiny black Audi. And while there is maybe another metaphor or two in there, visuals, cinematography and dramaturgy seems to matter less to Godsall than to let these actors occupy this space, and behave as people, real people, behave. We're given the opportunity to be a fly on the wall here, and Len And Company is worth hanging out with. And the company is necessary.