Pollywogs (2013) — Image via facebook.com/pollywogsthemovie

Pollywogs

Directed by Karl Jacob & T. Arthur Cottam (2013)

At a Q&A session after Saturday’s screening of Pollywogs at the Twin Cities Film Festival, director Karl Jacob said that one of his goals for his first feature film was to make audiences feel uncomfortable. Rated on that criterion, Pollywogs is an unqualified success. Over the course of a weekend, Jacob’s characters repeatedly put their feet in their mouths, make decisions ranging from the questionable to the obviously bad, and try and fail to communicate meaningfully with one another, all while attempting to maintain an increasingly tenuous atmosphere of joviality.

Pollywogs (2013) — Image via facebook.com/pollywogsthemovieThe film starts off straightforwardly enough. In the wake of a bad breakup, Dylan (Jacob) flees his apartment in New York to spend some time at his family’s cabin in northern Minnesota. He is greeted with a picnic — which serves as a sort of ethnographic slice of life featuring many of Jacob’s actual family members — and a surprise guest shows up: his childhood sweetheart, Sara (Kate Lyn Sheil). Sara, whose family moved to a religious compound in Colorado when she was 12, has returned to Minnesota to care for her ailing grandmother, and at the end of the picnic, Dylan invites her to spend the night at the cabin with him, his cousin Julie (Jennifer Prediger), and her husband, Bo (Larry Mitchell).

Over the course of the weekend, we learn a few things about these characters. In the 18 years since they have seen each other, Dylan and Sara have clearly been haunted by their unresolved childhood feelings, and both are looking for some change in their lives. On the surface, Sara seems to be the more damaged of the two, though over time, we come to see, from Dylan’s behavior, some potential reasons why none of his relationships have survived. Meanwhile, Julie and Bo, who at first seem to be outgoing and cheerful people with a strong connection, reveal some of their marital troubles.

Pollywogs (2013) — Image via facebook.com/pollywogsthemovieAt the risk of partial spoilers, two scenes stand out on the discomfort meter. One is a sex scene that is probably one of the least romantic of its type ever filmed. Fueled by a combination of nostalgia and multiple depressants — and occurring in a sauna of all places — the scene is in fact fairly likely to induce nausea in many viewers. The other key scene is the final interaction between Dylan and Sara, during which they are completely unable to articulate their feelings to each other.

Much of the action and dialogue in Pollywogs was developed through improvisation, and it shows. Characters talk over each other, correct themselves, and engage in generally unpolished and awkward behavior. Sheil, in particular, gives the impression of being completely out of place, never knowing quite what to say or do, which is realistic given the background of her character, including some suggestion of trauma. Ultimately, Jacob leaves things completely unresolved, as they often are in real life but rarely are in films, and he deserves credit for this. Pollywogs has plenty of rough edges, and viewers will wince more than once at the frequent obliviousness of its characters, but the film is not afraid to put these things out there for everyone to see.

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.