Grear Patterson stakes his claim as a thoughtful filmmaker with impressionistic debut

By: Steve Pulaski

I enjoy a good piece of impressionistic filmmaking from time-to-time. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a film as deliberately sparse as Giants Being Lonely. It saw its premiere in Venice back in 2019, but didn’t see a release in the states until this spring for reasons unclear. Not that this would’ve been a barnburner had it saw a conventional theater-release, but as an unassuming watch in the middle of the afternoon, it takes its time putting its spell on you. By a third of the way through, you’ll know if you have the stamina for its 73-minute runtime. Not everyone will.

Set in the American south, Grear Patterson’s directorial debut revolves around a high school baseball team known as the Giants. We follow two pitchers, who are not related but are played by brothers with a strong resemblance to one another. They’re Adam (Ben Irving) and Bobby (Jack Irv). Bobby is the team’s star pitcher, who probably has the best fortune of every player, although that’s not saying much. We initially meet them in the dugout, where their loudmouth coach insists they look within to find the motivation and skill to play better while also throwing out that they’re a privileged bunch. The coach does a mighty fine job of projecting his own failures and insecurities on the boys. It’s always wonderful to have your confidence and self-worth ripped to shreds before it even has time to manifest.

Patterson’s camera uses the baseball field, the homelives, and the pastures that surround this community as a playground on which to roam. Bobby has no mother, left to care for his loving father, who is in such poor health he can’t attend his boy’s games. Meanwhile, Adam has a father (Larry Miller) who is physically and verbally abusive and a mother (Amalia Culp) who is basically catatonic, wandering through life. Her trauma is never illustrated, but living with a husband like hers can’t be a picnic. She winds up having an affair with one of her son’s teammates, perhaps enjoying the attention of a young, non-judgmental party. Both Adam and Bobby are crushing on a girl named Caroline (Lily Gavin), insinuating the slim-pickings in the romantic partner department of a small town. Caroline’s mother has little patience for her daughter’s teenage years. She tells her not to trust boys and goes as far as to kick her out of the car on the way to school. “Come home with a smile,” she says before abandoning her roadside.

Let’s talk about Grear Patterson. He’s an artist, author, and now film director in his early thirties, who wrote Giants Being Lonely when he was 19. He loosely based it off of personal experiences. He knows the entrapping feelings a small, rural town can inspire. No better is this illustrated than when Bobby stops at a convenience store and everyone from fellow shoppers to the grimy group of social outcasts chaining cigarettes by the dumpster know him. If you can throw a fastball or successfully complete a wheel-route to the endzone, you’re looked at as a celebrity in areas like this one. You’re someone to cheer for in an area defined by minimal opportunity and brokenness. The pressure felt by Bobby athletically and personally might echo that of Patterson’s growing up. Even the house in which Adam and his family reside is Patterson’s own boyhood home.

As a filmmaker, Patterson has a strong eye for settings. His astute photography reminded me of early David Gordon Green, who made a name for himself with thoughtful, empathetic dramas like George Washington and All the Real Girls. He enacts an episodic structure akin to Green; one that lets permits mood to take centerstage in any given scene as opposed to plot-progression. The minimalist nature of Giants Being Lonely isn’t far off Gus Van Sant’s “Death Trilogy,” which began with the enigmatic Gerry, continued with the Columbine-inspired Elephant, and concluded with the pseudo-Kurt Cobain biopic Last Days. Art director Charlie Chaspooley Robinson assures that the vibrant yellow and green baseball uniforms contrast sharply with the saturated backdrops, be them deep green forests or tan baseball diamonds brightened by the stadium lights that drown out nearby landscapes in effort to put all the attention onto the boys. For a few fleeting hours every week, the teens have the attention of the entire town, for better or for worse.

Disjointedness comes with the territory in impressionistic filmmaking, and a couple more scenes that connected Adam and Bobby, or at least highlighted their conversations with fellow teammates, might’ve done wonders to make the explosive climax that much more impacting. There’s a feeling of dread throughout Giants Being Lonely that’s deftly captured by Patterson. We wait for the shoe to drop because the conditions are ripe for it, as if a dark, doomy cloud has appeared and a torrential downpour is imminent. Patterson’s debut is imperfect, but it’s indicative of a deep-thinker and one with more stories to tell. His next feature will be a pivotal one, whatever it may be.

NOTE: Giants Being Lonely is now available to rent on multiple streaming platforms and is also available on DVD.

Grade: B-

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