Film Review “The Discoverers”

TheDiscoverers-poster-460x681Starring: Griffin Dunne, Madeleine Martin, Devon Graye, and Stuart Margolin
Directed By: Justin Schwarz
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 104 minutes

Our Score: 1.5 out of 5 stars

“The Discoverers” might be a bit too smug with its theme. It’s the tale of a family journey that’s derailed by another family journey that finds it reenacting another journey. Through these strung-along journeys, a father discovers true insight into his children. Through emotional healing, they discover their true emotions. They eventually discover something new about themselves and all this while they portray America’s original discoverer’s Lewis and Clark. To imply there’s any more to this movie than journeying and discovering would be a vast overstatement.

Lewis Birch (Dunne) is a failing history professor who decides to road trip to Oregon for a literary conference with his artsy liberal daughter, Zoe (Martin), and incurious stoner son, Jack (Graye). This short-lived plot point is derailed by the passing of Lewis’ mother. After making funeral arrangements and a quick cameo by John C. McGinley, Lewis’ father, Stanley (Margolin), immediately heads to the woods for a Lewis and Clark re-enactment (because tradition?). The family has to follow because Stanley’s mental health is quickly waning and they must keep notes on the feeble gun-toting old man with his coonskin cap.

“The Discoverers” is a dime store movie that I assume indie admirers will gobble up, but I found myself counting down the minutes until it expired. While the movie tries to pass itself off as heartfelt, it felt a lot more insensitive and unnecessarily boorish. I guess the cockles of our hearts are supposed to melt when Lewis and Zoe have a heart-to-heart while she’s on her period in the great outdoors without a tampon for miles.

Dunne and Martin’s performances are fantastic and really create some of the more adhesive moments of the film. Martin plays the snarky daughter perfectly while Dunne’s creates a believe man on the verge of a breakdown. There is one moment in the movie that shows signs of creative bliss when Lewis and Zoe find solace in each other. I guess Jack isn’t gloomy enough to join in on the emotional conversation during the third act of this movie.

Writer/Director Justin Schwarz has the right quirks in mind, but he never fills out the emotional depth of all the side characters to compliment Dunne and Martin’s performances. Everyone feels like pieces of furniture being shifted to different locations hoping to add a flare to the scenery. Schwarz obviously wants to create a loveable, yet chaotic family, but he forgot the impassioned depth that makes us want to see the silver lining in this bleak existence.

The tale of family dysfunction has become the road most traveled when it comes to indie stories and “Discoverers” catalogues itself as one of the more forgettable ones. I personally look forward to the more sharply written movies that place a microscope over the fading nuclear family highlighting a contemporary slice of Americana. Schwarz needs some work before he crafts an indie gems that spring up in a sea of conventional blockbusters.


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