I’m calling this a comedy even though it’s not a pure comedy. It reminded me a little of Out of the Furnace, in the sense that it’s about working class characters making bad choices in a depressed Rust Belt town, but it’s far more whimsical than Out of the Furnace. It reminded me at other times of the Coen Brothers as well, because of the black humor and the stupid, venal characters, but it’s nowhere near as stylized or sarcastic as a Coen Bros. film. Visually it’s rather drab and washed out, in a way that seems appropriate to the dismal, worn-down environment the characters inhabit. The director, John Slattery, and female lead, Christina Hendricks, both come from Mad Men, so maybe the tone is related to the TV show too, I wouldn’t know.
The film opens on a funeral, and then flashes back three days to show us how we got there. A voice-over introduces us to the small Pennsylvania town of God’s Pocket, where everybody has stolen something and the worst crime you can commit is not being from there. Hendricks and Philip Seymour Hoffman are wife and husband, and he’s not from there. Her son from a previous husband is a no good pill-popping asshole who gets himself killed (thus the funeral), and the action of the film is centered on the cover-up of the murder and the humiliations Hoffman must endure to buy a coffin for his dead stepson. The story is actually more ramshackle than that, as it also involves a caper Hoffman gets into to steal some sides of beef with John Turturro and a local gangster, and also a tangent about an alcoholic journalist played by Richard Jenkins who gets badgered by his editor into investigating the death of the boy.
Above all it’s a portrait of people who are just barely scraping by in a piss-poor small town where everybody knows everybody else’s business. It has elements of satire, but it’s mostly affectionate in its view, even when people behave very badly indeed. There’s an interesting racial subtext that isn’t directly commented on at all. A few bursts of unexpected violence underline the sense of precarious existence lurking behind the whimsical humor. The poetic, world weary voice-over provided by the journalist ends up not being as wise as it thinks it is. Everything is mostly very low key — as washed out as the lighting and the colors. It has a quiet power and charm, but it doesn’t pretend to be important. Life goes on.