Directors: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
Stars: Amanda Seyfried, Rhea Seehorn, Natalia Dyer
My only prior exposure to the work of directing duo Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini is 2003’s American Splendor – one of the finest American indies of that year. It was witty, formally playful and anchored in performance. Evidently much has changed in the intervening decades. Their latest washes up on Netflix this week and fair play to the streaming service for doggedly continuing their efforts to bring back the under-achieving mid-budget thriller. Things Heard & Seen under-performs in pretty much every respect, sinking successfully into the miasma of forgettable and forgotten ‘Originals’ available on the service.
If it were 20 years ago, this movie would be the kind to sit on the bottom shelf of your local Blockbuster store in the new releases section. It’s the trailer from the same distributor on your higher-profile DVD that makes you wonder when you missed its release. It’s the movie whose poster reaches to obscure or off-topic publications for it’s charitable pull quotes. “Oh, Good Housekeeping liked it…” etc.
Still, such mid-level fare shouldn’t ought to be this devoid of intrigue…
Catherine (Amanda Seyfried) and George (James Norton) are a young couple who have recently moved into a spacious old house with ‘good bones’. He is an academic, she is an artist – though she is more commonly depicted as a listless housewife. When he’s not jerking off in the shower, George sets about hitting on (and stalking!) an under-aged student (Natalia Dyer). Catherine, meanwhile, starts investigating the spotted history of their new home; her interest piqued by an old book that suggests that the entire family tree of the original owners was ‘damned’ and that they were efficiently wiped out.
With spectral light shows, funky phantom smells and a piano that plays itself, Catherine and George find themselves living through some Conjuring-lite melodramas as the rift between them widens. All of Things Heard & Seen engenders the feeling of a quickly discarded holiday paperback; the kind that moves efficiently and carries you through, but does so with a paucity of surprises and lacks for loftier aspirations.
A half-hearted attempt to bring Catherine’s established bulimia into the meat of the story ultimately casts it as a strangely non-committal character trait, demonstrating the same timidity or blurriness that’s writ large across these two hours. It really adds nothing and detracts from the seriousness of the disorder, triviliasing it as opposed to normalising. “I happen to be sick, George, throwing up my marriage” is a genuine line of dialogue Seyfried has to contend with here.
The directors’ script (based on Elizabeth Brundage’s novel) similarly attempts to scratch into the dirt under the fingernails of small-town rural communities but, yet again, it is only a cursory inspection. Every other example you might think of goes further, does more. George’s manic string of bad decisions become far more demanding of screen time.
Either her A-game wasn’t asked of Seyfried her or she elected to save it for projects with brighter prospects. She’s fine as Catherine, but she fits neatly into the unassuming characteristics that define the project at large. Things Heard & Seen features some notable supporting performers (the aforementioned Dyer, F Murray Abraham, Karen Allen and also Better Call Saul‘s mighty Rhea Seehorn) but the material’s too thin for any of them to shine or add much salt or spice. Beginning to end, Pulcini and Springer Berman’s offering is defiantly unseasoned.
I’ve wanted to see more work by these creatives for quite some while now, but they’re capable of far better than this.