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"Broken Down” Is the Best New Orleans Film to Screen This Year (So Far)
Hollywood South-Independent has a champion in director Jessy Cale Williamson's latest.
We may no longer be living in 2021, but the films of last year remain a force for some of us. And few movies have as much resounding force as Broken Down. At a most superficial level, one could see this picture as a response to the Covid pandemic - about an agoraphobic man, confined to living in a closed-in space by stress and fear. Certainly, but one would also be missing more, much more, about this incredibly kind-hearted film. Thinking outside of the lockdowns, thinking past the collective pain of the present, this might be a tale of prophecy for this new year. In this way, Broken Down kicks off the new theatrical calendar with help and hope.
Sam Cobean plays Harold, a man who is suffering from a major nervous and emotional breakdown and has been for five months by the time the story begins. Surrounded by filth in his beat-up and stationary vehicle, Harold’s only person-to-person contact with neighbors, family, and friends, comes only when he has the immense courage… to roll down his window. Pay no mind to that ellipsis, as his act of opening up at all rings true for so many of us with high anxieties. Cobean conveys such panic and pathos through each and every limited movement he can make inside of a car. It’s crucial for him to balance feelings of pity, empathy, frustration, and of love that viewers will likely have for Harold, as otherwise, the movie would be nothing more than a tear-jerking gimmick. Cobean’s visage isn’t some mirage, and neither are his cries of anguish or his smiles of occasional joy. Harold is flesh and realized to perfection. In another variant of my OCD life, I could’ve been him.
Taking place solely on a neighborhood street in New Orleans, one with cracks and potholes - not unfamiliar in the city - this film is as much about community as it is about Harold. The movie begins with overhead drone shots of abandoned and dilapidated buildings and properties, setting up for the inevitable reveal of the grungy car. It’s an ever so meaningful opening, challenging too, in how it encourages confrontation from an outside/in perspective on place and people. This all comes back around when the closing of car doors and the ascent of the camera give off an air of something much different from where the film first began. From end to end or, rather, end to beginning.
It’s beautiful too how Broken Down shows concern for its neighbors, no matter how “eccentric” or in pain they are. A young kid befriends Harold by just sharing smokes and some stories, opening the man up slowly but surely. Harold’s friends and family want immediate results - for him to leave the car - but this one kid just wants the guy to be comfortable and take baby steps. To be supportive and to offer positive alternatives. As someone who has been through exposure therapies and many a panic attack, it’s absolutely heartwarming to see personal experiences and understandings reflected so well in a movie.
Without grandstanding at all, Broken Down uses New Orleans in a most welcome way. Every street tells a story, and this is but one of many. There’s no mention of Mardi Gras or Saints games, no “gumbo parties” or any other confectionary dressings to play up the location. It’s all so gentle, so intense, and so profound through such a small scale. It’s intimate, and will likely be the best New Orleans film of the year that will be 2022.
This movie is not a response to life during Covid but can be an escape into ourselves during these uncertain times. Do people want to spend more time inside of anything? Inside of themselves? For another year?
I hope so.
Sincerely Yours in Moviegoing,
Best New Orleans film of 2021: