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'Morvern Callar'

'Morvern Callar' can't find what it's looking for

Friday, March 21, 2003

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

I thought the craze for movies about Scottish youths trying to fill the gaping void of their existence had run its course in 1999 with "Acid House," based on stories by Irvine Welsh, who wrote "Trainspotting," which made the whole genre a sensation in 1996.

'Morvern Callar'

RATING: Unrated; contains nudity, sexual situations and vulgar language.

STARRING: Samantha Morton, Kathleen McDermott.

DIRECTOR: Lynne Ramsey.

WEB SITE: www.morverncallar.com


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Now, along comes "Morvern Callar," which takes its title from the name of its protagonist. We first see her face in close-up as she cuddles tightly to the person lying next to her. It is nighttime, and they appear to be sleeping.

We -- and she -- learn the truth in the morning. A puddle of blood lies on the nearby kitchen floor. Morvern's boyfriend has committed suicide. Why? The note he left on his computer says simply, "It seemed better this way."

He has also left the number for his ATM card (for funeral expenses) and a list of publishers to whom she should try to sell the completed novel that is also stored on the computer.

Morvern, who is 21 and works in a supermarket, does what any blank-faced character in one of these movies would do. She puts her own name on the novel, sends it off, buries the guy herself, takes the funeral money and goes off on holiday to Spain with her girlfriend, Lanna.

Her further adventures are played to the eclectic tape of songs that the dead man left her. One song that should have been on there was made famous by U2. To paraphrase: She still hasn't found what she's looking for. Heck, she doesn't know what she's looking for.

By the time our patience has run out entirely, she and Lanna are walking down a back road in the middle of nowhere. The sound is so low that we can barely make out what they're saying. We may not care by this point.

"Morvern Callar" is one of those movies that mistakes aimlessness for art, ennui for worldliness. The movie holds our interest when Morvern is reacting to her boyfriend's death, when we have not yet discerned that there is a method to her madness.

When she goes off on holiday, so does the film, directed and co-written by young British filmmaker Lynne Ramsey. Her earlier films include "Ratcatcher" and shorts titled "Small Deaths" and "Kill the Day." She sounds like a cheerful sort.

The movie perks up a little when Morvern meets with publishers interested in the book. In the meantime, she displays a fascination with bugs, which become a key motif in the film.

Obviously, "Morvern Callar" doesn't have enough of a story. It also doesn't have enough of a character. She can't find herself, so she keeps trying on other people's identities without finding happiness. If either Morvern or the movie bothered to show enough emotion, maybe we could empathize with her.

The wonderful Samantha Morton plays Morvern, but as I watched her I kept thinking of a fleshier Sara Gilbert, another wonderful actress who epitomized teen angst as the younger daughter on Roseanne.

That's fine, but I kept waiting to see the development of a character named Morvern Callar. No such luck.

Ron Weiskind can be reached at rweiskind@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.

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