Although there are a few surprises along the way, “Cloudburst” is a relatively simple journey from Point A to Point B. It’s also a mixture of genuine and manipulated emotion, and of organic and stock genre plotting. By turns this road-trip movie can be sentimental and near maudlin, or as raucous and bawdy as a medieval performance of Chaucer’s “Miller’s Tale.” It’s an odd mix.
So are the protagonists of “Cloudburst,” a film by Thom Fitzgerald (TV’s “Forgive Me”). Dot (Brenda Fricker) is legally blind, overweight, and prone to debilitating falls. She is mostly passive, with a passion for food. Her partner of 31 years, Stella (Olympia Dukakis), is a lean, mean swearing machine, even at age 80. Fond of her cowboy hat and tequila, she has the carriage and demeanor of a grizzled old Montana rancher who isn’t going to let anyone get away with anything. Except that these two women live in Dot’s house in Maine.
Everyone in their small town seems to know they are lesbians except for Dot’s granddaughter, Molly (Kristin Booth), who, after she finds out, tricks Dot into assigning her power of attorney so she can put the ailing woman in a rest home where she can be properly cared for.
It’s a formula we’ve seen before, and so is the road trip that follows after Stella busts Dot out of the extended care facility. As the two of them drive to Canada in Stella’s red pick-up truck, there seem to be a limited number of narrative turns that the film can take. But Fitzgerald, who also wrote the screenplay, depends on the vinegar-and-oil chemistry of the two main characters and a dynamic that’s altered after Stella stops to pick up a male stripper (Ryan Doucette) on his way to Canada to visit his dying mother.
For a film that lingers so close to the smell of death, “Cloudburst” is a surprisingly upbeat and at times laugh-out-loud film. Dukakis is flat-out hilarious as the foul-mouthed and sex-talking “bachelor,” and Fitzgerald weaves in enough low comedy of the bawdy sort to balance the seriousness and sentimentality. Though the film is unrated, as the driver who kicked Stella out of his car because of her foul mouth can attest, it would easily merit an R for language . . . and also male nudity, including full frontal nudity in an extended comic sequence.
There’s sadness here too, of course. You can’t have two old women pull a Thelma and Louise without there being some price to pay. But the underlying lesson here is to embrace life, and the film’s comic rowdiness is Lesson #1.
“Cloudburst” was shot in Nova Scotia, and the cinematography and scenery are gorgeous, whether countryside, seascape, or quaint towns. The area is so beautiful that I may look for work there. The visual openness reinforces Stella’s fiercely independent attitude and the couple’s determination to somehow make it to Canada to tie the knot.
Though “Cloudburst” won 36 awards—most of them from LGBT festivals—and though lesbianism takes a front seat (in fairness, they drive a pick-up, so there IS no back seat), you never feel like this is an LGBT film. It’s a indie film that just happens to be about two lesbians and the very straight hitchhiker they pick up. And a good one at that.
Digital source materials really help DVDs, and so does upconversion. The video for “Cloudburst” looks surprisingly sharp-edged, with great color saturation, natural skin tones, and only a thin layer of filmic grain that occasionally turns to noise in backgrounds. Detail holds pretty well in close-ups, but dissipates slightly in medium and long shots. “Cloudburst” is presented in 16×9 widescreen.
The sound is on a par with the video, with an English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound delivering a decent level of clarity. At times directionality seems suspect, but overall the surround speakers do their job nicely. There are no subtitles, but “Cloudburst” is closed captioned.
Besides a brief behind-the-scenes featurette there’s only a handful of interviews with the actors that have the feel of promos.
As clichéd as it sounds, “Cloudburst” had me laughing out loud and also holding back tears. Well, mostly laughing out loud. Dukakis’s character has no tolerance for wallowing in emotion, and neither does this comedy-drama from Thom Fitzgerald. It features one of the funniest, bawdiest, most memorable scenes I’ve ever witnessed in a film. Despite the formulaic elements, it still feels like an original.