At first glance, the endearingly humble Niagara Niagara seems a virtual prototype for independent filmmaking.
There's the young couple with quirky career histories, including Robin Tunney, who was bewitching in The Craft, and Henry Thomas, the little boy all grown up who melted our hearts in E.T. There's the screenwriter (Matthew Weiss) fresh out of university, the director (Bob Gosse) making his debut and the requisite female alt-folk/country soundtrack.
Most importantly, there's a winding plotline that revolves around said couple as they inadvertently get tangled up with oddball characters and the law, ultimately leading to a tragic conclusion. It's enough to make you wanna go out and rent a down-and-dirty double feature of Kalifornia and True Romance - if you let surface appearances get the best of you.
Niagara Niagara does fall into some young-thugs-on-the-road movie clichés, most notably in the form of gazing scenery shots and jumpy camera work. At it's heart, though, the film is an affecting portrait of unselfish love between two young hearts who simply don't know any better.
Marcy (Tunney) and Seth (Thomas) first meet at a drugstore - they bump into each other while shoplifting. Marcy's up-front manner takes Seth by surprise, and he offers to give her a ride to work.
Soon, Marcy and Seth are exchanging kind words and glances, that is, when Marcy isn't jerking her head or shouting out babbling phrases. Marcy has Tourette's Syndrome, an obsessive-compulsive disorder that produces vocal and physical tics and outbursts. Seth notices, but he doesn't freak out. He accepts it as part of Marcy's persona.
Prompted by one of Marcy's spontaneous obsessions - namely to find a black doll styling head to match the white one she has at home - the two set out for Toronto, where the cosmopolitan atmosphere undoubtedly has room for such a luxurious toy.
Inevitably, Marcy and Seth grow closer and, eventually, fall in love. Marcy's illness, though, requires constant medication. Being so far from home, it's impossible to fill her prescription. Complications soon arise.
Niagara Niagara draws its strength from a quiet, at times gentle, tone. Director Gosse is good at sustaining a mood, even if too many moments seem to explode out of nowhere with unjust intensity.
Those episodes, though, may stem from the nature of Marcy's illness, and Tunney is extremely good at fleshing out a character amid all the ornaments. Her carefully modulated performance is a wonder to watch.
Thomas is also affecting at playing off Tunney's vastly different acting techniques. He creates a simple character who is, in his own way, overjoyed at the love he has found, regardless of the baggage it brings.
Michael Parks is also very good as Walter, an old stranger with little to live for who is awakened by the reckless youthfulness of his guests. His performance is a true stand-out.
Niagara Niagara is, in its equally quirky and quiet way, a sweet snapshot of the things we do for love. Anchored by Tunney's skill and Weiss' pleasantly meandering script, it's a refreshing taste of the spirit and heart of young love.