Up-front info: I love Amy Acker. Not like “we’re meant to be together,” but she’s a fine actress, and gorgeous to boot. People know her from Joss Whedon’s works, like The Cabin in the Woods, as well as two Whedon tv series and she’ll be in Joss’ upcoming update of Much Ado About Nothing. I chose to review this movie the moment I knew she was in it. And so we come to Sironia.
Sironia is probably one of the most mature, realistic, and balanced dramas that I’ve ever seen. It won the Audience Award at the 2011 Austin Film Festival, and it’s easy to see why. The movie uses humor very well, and it does a great job of telling the story of a difficult and strange time in a couple’s relationship. Honestly, relationship troubles can be very hit-or-miss and fail to generate real interest; not so with this pic.
Brandon Dickerson directs and co-writes with Wes Cunningham, who plays the lead male, Tommy. Acker plays Molly, his loving wife. The supporting roles were very well-cast, too: Tony Hale plays Chad; Jeremy Sisto is Tucker, Robyn Lively fills out the role of Barbara, and John Billingsley has a nice, unusual cameo as Doug. For once, I’m giving you the story and using all the character’s names, so let’s get down to it…
Thomas is a happily-married musician who has scored his first big hit. He and his agent, Tucker, are optimistic about the future. In fact, Thomas buys a sweet place for him and Molly, flush with their success. As he shows her their new home, he finds out she’s preggers.
But soon, Tucker has bad news: the record company has completely lost interest in Thomas’ folk-style songs, and they’re discarding him like a used tissue. Thomas is reeling from this, and also realizes that his agent is bailing on him, too. With pressure rising and finances plummeting, Thomas is already on edge when he gets an offer from Tucker: help work out the kinks of a young pop star that the agent wants to develop.
The kid says that they’re “a fan” of Tommy’s disc, but can’t name a song. Looking at all of this, and the way attention has shifted off of him, Thomas feels so abused that he lashes out at his agent and storms off. This is when he tells his wife that they should get out of LA and start fresh in her home town of Sironia, Texas.
After a great road trip montage, they settle in to a new home and start to build a new life. Molly’s brother Chad does his sis a favor and lets Thomas manage Chad’s non-profit diner. The couple attends local events (the mutton busting sequence is hysterical, with nice acting from Wes in particular), they prepare for the baby’s arrival, and they generally just enjoy their life and their mutual affection.
It’s not easy, though. Molly and Thomas emptied their savings to buy the new house, so their cash-flow is precarious. And, as time goes on, Thomas has become so involved in the 9-5 grind that he’s completely put his music on hold. Molly loves her man and his music, and she encourages him not to give up – but he’s doing the right thing and taking care of his family.
Naturally, even more trouble is on the horizon. A local bartender recognizes Thomas and loves his work; the guy arranges for him to perform, saying it’ll be by the local college and 200 people should show. Only the couple’s friends and family attend. Tommy is having a drink alone, and he sees that pop kid he dismissed getting massive attention on TV. And Chad tries to pressure him to generate more cash at the diner, saying it may close in a month – Tom replies, naturally, that he can’t be held to for-profit standards in an nfp business.
This is finally when Thomas goes into a tail-spin of irresponsible and inconsiderate behavior – like getting wasted, arriving late to his niece’s birthday party… This deeply in-love couple is now on very thin ice, and Thomas is jumping up and down on it.
Sironia‘s strengths are legion. The cast is excellent, and the script is just exceptional. All of the jokes score nicely, which makes it even sweeter when you see that the film makes a lot of fine observations about life, failure, bitterness, and love. This pic is never boring, nor is it preachy, nor is too cutesy, nor is it too “dark.” It feels like a non-fiction story…
Part of how it does so well by the characters is that, without ever losing its focus, Sironia includes a lot of slice-of-life scenes that give you a real sense of who everybody is. These are all distinct, alive roles who feel true to life. None of them are un-simple, nor cliched, nor is anyone reduced to being a cheap bad guy – even Tucker. And Thomas is just adorable in most of the scenes with his baby and his niece; despite his problems, he’s really a sweet, mature guy.
Perhaps my favorite thing here is that the couple here isn’t handled in the way of most other relationship dramas. Molly never becomes a nag, or a cold jerk to her man. Thomas isn’t some horrible screwup, and you understand why he gets as bitter and out-of-control as he does. He’s a dedicated artist and Molly is the love of his life. You really get a sense for the deep and abiding love between the pair. All this gets you invested in their struggles, and you really worry about what will happen to them.
Sisto gets only a bit of screen time, but he uses it nicely. Tony Hale is excellent in a type of role that I’ve never seen him take on. Billingsley is great as a homeless man who cooks at the diner; along with Sisto, his role was the most likely to be a caricature, and yet (as with Sisto) this never happens. Yes, Doug is a bit nutty and clueless – but he’s not dumb, and you see that this man has at least a little dignity and a good heart that is easily hurt. Robyn Lively gets the closest thing to a “typical” role – the Texas housewife – but there’s nothing superficial about the way she plays it, nor the lines she’s given.
I’d compliment the whole cast, but then we’re looking at a review of over 1500 words. I don’t know that any of us want that, so I’ll just add that Ryan Cartwright also makes a brief appearance; he’s a fantastic actor, and I recommend you check him out on SyFy’s excellent show, Alphas.
Sironia is a fine drama, a well-told story about a realistic relationship and the problems that it suffers. It’s also a fine tale about dealing with failure, and coming to grips with the struggle between doing what you love and doing what you have to do. I highly recommend you watch this picture, if it sounds like your kind of thing. And, if it isn’t, give it a try anyway – you might find yourself surprised by how effective and charming and mature and original this picture can be.
You’ll understand why this film has 22 5-star ratings on iTunes, but I’m by the 41 IMDb users who averaged out to a 5.0/10. At least one reviewer was thoughtful enough to give it a glowing review. Rotten Tomatoes has no reviews, but 4 audience members gave it a 100% score. Metacritic doesn’t even list it, tho…
FilmBuff is distributing Sironia, which is now available online at Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, Vudu, Playstation, Xbox, CinemaNow, and YouTube. Please support this fine independent drama – audiences would be better off if more movies were made like this.