Beneath the Harvest Sky (2014)

Beneath the Harvest SkyBeneath the Harvest Sky (2013)
Dir: Aron Gaudet, Gita Pullapilly
Tribeca Film (Official Site)
116 minutes
U.S. Theatrical Release May 2, 2014

Casper (Emory Cohen) is a genial asshole, a troubled teen who threatens teachers, gets his young girlfriends pregnant and steals prescriptions for his pill-slinging father (Aiden Gillen); it’s no wonder everyone in the tiny burg of Van Buren, Maine is always talking about Casper. This includes Casper himself, who drifts into the third person when flexing his muscles, or his reputation. He and his best friend Dominic (Callan McAuliffe) dream of leaving the small farming community and moving to Boston, away from their problems and closer to the Red Sox. Over the week-long harvest break, Dom works fields full of the purple potatoes Van Buren is famous for, while Casper just shoots them from a potato gun.

Beneath the Harvest Sky is the first non-documentary film from the team of Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly. Unfortunately, this young male coming-of-age story is just one of many in an overworked and overcrowded genre saddled with a litany of tropes that are difficult to avoid. Beneath the Harvest Sky not only does not attempt to avoid cliché, it doesn’t realize its content is 80% cliché by volume. Drugs, divorce, derelict houses, broken homes and fast cars all make an appearance right on cue, as do poorly-drawn female characters who exist only to irritate or sexually please the male leads.

This is a clumsy and unskilled affair, a real shame considering such solid performances by Cohen and McAuliffe. There’s a subplot involving the DEA that waffles about for a bit until resolving in a wilting finale that wastes what could have been a fine turn by Delaney Williams. Amidst the supporting characters are two men named Jesse and Badger, hinting at a “Breaking Bad” homage that never materializes. The music by Dustin Hamman, though exceptional, overwhelms rather than enhances, the on-the-nose lyrics telling us what we already know.

Exacerbating these issues is the script, which bears signs of a difficult transition from research to dialogue. Characters break into monologues that sound like lectures and commercials, such as when a gang member recites facts about the drug trade on the I-95 corridor, or when a farmer praises Sugar Mover brand fertilizer for giving his potatoes “a stronger, better, healthier life;” you expect the scene to fade out with a list of local retailers and the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. Worst is a teacher’s lecture on The Jim Twins, taken almost verbatim from an old newspaper article. The scriptwriters may wish to reconsider their methods in the future to avoid the appearance of plagiarism.

Casper and Dom are propelled by the idea that they’re better than their surroundings, unaware that much of what they achieve is at the expense of others. After the usual angst and complications, their lives begin to crumble, as lives in these sorts of stories tend to do. There are dire consequences and a bittersweet ending, and above all a sense of waste, not just for the characters, but for the genuine talent anchored to such an uninspired film.