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October 4, 2018

I Used to Be Darker

by Franz Patrick


I Used to Be Darker (2013)
★ / ★★★★

Taryn (Deragh Campbell) calls her aunt and uncle to inform them that she is on the bus to Baltimore. She sounds desperate and says she has nowhere else to stay. But Kim (Kim Taylor) and Bill (Ned Oldham), musicians, are in the process of separating. Still, they welcome Taryn into their home until she figures out what to do next. Her situation is not made any better when Kim learns that her sister’s daughter is supposed to be in Wales.

Movies like “I Used to Be Darker,” based on the screenplay by Amy Belk and Matthew Porterfield, which use realism as a central device to propel a story, are a challenge to pull off gracefully. It is often that the camera lingers, seemingly without purpose, to capture whatever is going on—even if what is caught is not necessarily interesting or engaging. Such is the problem in this picture: a series of scenes that feel like anybody could have shot. As a whole, the events feel very scattered and it begs one to consider the point the filmmakers are trying to convey, if any.

Taryn is, for the most, a bore to have to endure. Perhaps the only moment when she demands attention is when she admits that she thinks she is not very smart. Are we supposed to feel sorry for her lack of self-esteem? I must say I did not disagree with her self-assessment. Halfway through, she remains to be vapid, hollow shell who sleepwalks through the days. When she takes action, it is because she is pushed. How did this person manage to get on a plane from Europe and find her way across the East Coast?

I suppose the point of the film is that Taryn must function as a catalyst for the couple in transition. However, it does not work because, for the reasons cited above, the protagonist is a lump. There is no vitality to her. Putting an incorrect or non-functional catalyst in a chemical reaction is tantamount to not having one at all.

It a shame because Kim and Bill do not get enough screen time. When they end up in the same room, we feel their hurt, anger, and frustration. These emotions are still raw and the wounds are opened when they interact. Even though they no longer wish to be around one another, it is apparent that they remain to have feelings for each other. And since they are both musicians, they express the things that cannot be said through songs. When the camera fixes on a character with only his or her voice and an acoustic guitar, it has moments of genuine emotion. It becomes a movie worth investing in.

Directed by Matthew Porterfield, “I Used to Be Darker” is, for the most part, a trial to sit through. The main character lacks extreme or magnetic qualities that force us to want to get to know her and her circumstances. I would rather have observed the fallout of a marriage without any distraction than a dull girl who carries a secret.

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