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Asleep in My Palm Review


Musings about life, existence, and learned resilience vie for attention alongside themes of loneliness and desperation in director/writer Henry Nelson’s fascinating new indie film Asleep in My Palm. Like 2020’s equally compelling Nomadland, most of the film’s characters live purposely off-grid and have found innovative ways to adapt in an unstable modern world filled with pretentiousness and moral decay.




In this case, our protagonist Tom, played by Tim Blake Nelson—the director’s father/producer, currently starring in Dune: Part Two—lives with his teenage daughter Beth Anne (Chloë Kerwin of Test Screening) in a decked-out storage unit in rural Ohio near a small liberal arts college. The father/daughter relationship is key to the story, leaping off the duo’s tight bond. But their personal challenges are mounting. Tom is trying to leave his violent and unsettling past behind, and Beth Anne is slowly coming into her own, experiencing a sexual awakening and a greater need for independence.

Deep, poignant, and often sardonic, Asleep in My Palm is an impressive debut feature from Nelson, a director whom we all should keep our eyes on. Between its simple and deeply affecting storytelling and its mind-blowing final act, Asleep in My Palm is yet another example of how powerful independent films can be.



Strong Characters and a Powerful Story

Asleep in My Palm

4.5/5

Release Date
February 26, 2024

Director
Henry Nelson

Cast
Tim Blake Nelson , Grant Harvey , Gus Birney , Jared Abrahamson , David Aaron Baker

Writers
Henry Nelson

Studio(s)
Red Barn Films , Hideout Pictures

Distributor(s)
Strike Back Studios

Pros

  • The unique characters give viewers a chance to see rare portions of society.
  • The slower pace of Asleep in My Palm works in the film’s favor.
  • The film’s final scenes and third act stick the landing perfectly.

“It’s basically the best we get,” Tom says to Beth Anne about life at one point in Asleep in My Palm. It’s during their special planned time outside of the storage unit. Planned because to float in and out of their “home” during the day would draw suspicion. “We build it and hate it,” Tom goes on, “and then get pissed when the world inevitably f**ks us out of it with uninvited change. And then we go and build it again somewhere else.”


Beth Anne has grown used to hearing her father’s thought-provoking prose. The film opens with Tom embellishing on a story of Chicken Little, whom nobody believed when he fretted about the sky falling. Yet here, Beth Anne remains forever the curious listener. “Where did you live before me?” she asks. Tom casually replies: “Before you, my home was loneliness. That was my home. And I never really destroyed that place, you know?”

Naturally, she asks, “You’re so lonely?” To which he responds, “Not in a bad way if that makes sense. We all need a little bit of that. Almost like we were born for it. And then everything we accomplish is just a way of getting it back. If I could give you anything, it would be the ability to need nothing and no one. To be unbreakable. To disappear if you have to.”

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Surely, Tom has done just that in the past. The man has been either on the run and/or living on the outskirts of society for some time. We’re led to believe he’s an educated and smart man, too, and this becomes vividly apparent when Tom and his partner-in-crime, Jose (The Changeling’s Jared Abrahamson), banter about life’s hardships. They’re partners only for the money, using the cash they get from stealing bikes on campus as a way to fill their fluctuating coffers. Jose is an emotional bull in a china shop, lacking grounding and shrewdness to ever make it in the world, and it gives the film an opportunity to explore Tom’s brilliance and edge further. Overall, the characters here are a wild mix, providing an intimate look at rarely-seen portions of society.


A Tale With an Epic Finish

Henry Nelson covers great ground here by doing less. He allows the few days we experience with Tom, Beth Anne, and Jose to unfold naturally, slowly building toward a powerful end game. At one point, Tom and Jose are busy “at work,” and Beth Anne meets a gritty group of misfits in a warehouse lair. There’s Dark Mortius (Grant Harvey), who takes narcissistic pleasure in the off-grid lifestyle he’s created with his fellow rebels. But it’s in Dark’s comrade, Millah (Shining Vale’s Gus Birney), where the typically isolated Beth Anne finds a spark.


Millah is a college girl out for a night of fun. Millah hasn’t bought into Dark’s outrageous game plan. When the moment arrives for Beth Anne and Millah to swim deeper waters, Beth Anne’s revelations are as sweet as they are telling of the sheltered life she’s been living. An intimate kiss sparks a desire for more, but Millah wants to know more about Beth Anne. These are some of the most moving scenes in the film, but Henry Nelson’s script saves the best for last, flipping the overall dynamics.

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The movie’s significant turning point finds Tom and Beth Anne switching roles—he’s spiraling down, and she, while filled with confusion, has an opportunity to rise above her previous limitations. We wouldn’t dare share more about the film’s big reveal, which is, delightfully so, quietly revealed.


Tim Blake Nelson, who’s delivered powerful turns in the films Just Mercy, Lincoln, Minority Report, O Brother Where Art Thou?, and The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs, delivers one of the finest performances of his career here. Released at another time and through a major studio, Nelson’s performance would be considered Oscar-worthy.

Chloë Kerwin is sublime as Beth Anne, effectively capturing the character’s vulnerability, curiosity, and resilience. This is a breakout role for the young performer, and we’ll have to keep our eyes on her. Powerful, well-written, and smartly edited, Henry Nelson takes audiences inside a fascinating, rarely-seen side of American life, exposing its heartache and unrelenting determination to survive. The film also captures a sobering look at the fracture of the societal soul, troubling pasts that cannot be outrun, and the precarious states many people suddenly themselves in in the 2020s. Bravo. Asleep in My Palm hits theaters Mar. 1, and arrives on Digital Mar. 19.




This story originally appeared on Movieweb

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