Group (review)

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If there’s a single fatal flaw common to many indies produced on minuscule budgets, it’s that no matter the talent and innovation of writers and directors, nonprofessional actors often aren’t able to do their material justice. But the most extraordinary thing about Group is the wholly believable and heart-wrenching depths of despair reached by the cast assembled by filmmakers and new-media artists Anne de Marcken and Marilyn Freeman. For their experimental mock documentary about a women’s therapy group, they gathered together some local Pacific Northwest theater actors, alt-rock Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein, queer activist Nomy Lamm, and other enthusiastic amateur thespians, gave them extensive backgrounds on their characters, and let them improvise their weekly group-therapy sessions before a handful of digital video cameras. Six-up video images immerse us in the encounters between eight diverse women facing very different personal traumas, and if the film isn’t completely satisfying from a story perspective — with just two or three characters elbowing out the others for screen time, we learn very little about most of them, and only one character has a complete arc — it’s more than made up for by its emotional intensity. Bravo to all for bringing to the screen real issues real women deal with, and doing so in so unsentimental a manner.

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