Spring Forward

Rated: R
Stars: Ned Beatty, Liev Schreiber

The relationship of two men has never been portrayed with more warmth and honesty as it is in Spring Forward. Ned Beatty and Liev Schreiber give startlingly lucid performances as Murph and Paul, two employees of the parks department in Connecticut. We are given a ‘year in the life’ look at them from the time they are first hurled together on the job and the growth they experience as friends and individuals and how that relationship affects their perspective on life. It’s a beautifully made small personal film held together by keenly measured character development and tight masterful dialogue. And although a few other characters pop in occasionally, they serve only to depict the individual’s particular growth at the moment.

Beatty’s Murph is a tolerant and fairly laid back type who wants to make due scraping by until retirement. He’s married and has a son. Hidden within is a dark secret about his relationship with his son that pains him daily. Paul, just out of prison for a minor theft, is a down-on-his-luck but trying to be better, loner, who is desperately trying to cope with his first day on the job for the parks department. He’s ready to quit after just three hours. We get a good taste of who these men are when they’ve been sent to remove fertilizer from a yuppie businessman’s (Campbell Scott as Fredrickson) property which Fredrickson is generously ‘donating’ to the town. But two other workers who were supposed to be helping them don’t show up. That, and Fredrickson’s condescending attitude; he’s convinced that Murph and Paul will do the job on their own, sets Paul’s trigger temper off while Murph takes it in stride. The incident itself bothers Murph less than the foul language that spews from Paul’s mouth. It is a major issue in the early part of the film as Murph must remind Paul endlessly as to his objections. Murph develops into a father figure early on for Paul who, one step at a time, learns to temper his rage and intolerance while developing into a stable person who finally has a grip on what life is handing him.

The strong bond that develops is a natural progression from that first Spring day to Murph’s wintry retirement. The film was shot in sequence over the course of a year and is the first theatrical release from IFC Films. Playwright and actor Tom Gilroy makes his writing-directing feature film debut with Spring Forward. It’s obvious he knows his stuff.

Lotta says Spring Forward is a thoughtful and thoroughly engaging, well acted character driven drama. Hats off to Gilroy, Beatty and Schreiber for reminding us that it’s all about the characters! Rated R for language and some drug content. This film is in extreme limited release – will be hard to find in theaters. Look for the video release.

Reviewed 1/2/01