Review by Sean Boelman
It’s always exciting to see a new discovery on the festival circuit, and A Perfect Day for Caribou writer-director Jeff Rutherford is a talented new voice. Indie through-and-through, his feature debut benefits from some strong performances, a solid script, and a simple yet effective style — making it a compelling entry in this year’s Slamdance narrative lineup.
The film follows an estranged father and son who spend their day wandering around the landscape, searching for family and connecting in a way that they hadn’t in years. This is very much a standard festival drama, with lots of metaphor-heavy dialogue and very low-key production values.
Admittedly, the movie’s pacing is glacial — with the film consisting largely of two people talking, with several sections where a person is just speaking to a recorder. That being said, Rutherford’s dialogue is extremely sharp and poignant in a way that manages to make it captivating despite moving slowly.
The movie deals with several complex themes like mortality and parenthood. The topics that Rutherford discusses may not be particularly original, but he approaches them with such empathy and honesty that they manage to feel insightful and ring consistently true. And thankfully, the dialogue doesn’t feel overly pretentious or preachy with it.
Jeb Berrier is absolutely extraordinary as the lead of the film. His performance has so much unexpected nuance. Charlie Plummer is the co-lead, and while it’s surprising to see him in a low-key movie like this after a string of more mainstream roles, his chemistry with Berrier is strong and really drives the narrative.
The film’s emotion largely centers around the dynamic between the two characters. Although it is a bit of a conventional dysfunctional family relationship in terms of its conflict, the performances and writing elevate it beyond its core beats into something genuinely special. Rutherford also manages to avoid the traditional melodramatic trappings of the genre.
In the tradition of many great micro-budget dramas, Rutherford and cinematographer Alfonso Herrera Salcedo shoot the movie in crisp black-and-white cinematography. Although practicality may have been a big part of this decision, monochrome also lends the film a feeling reminiscent of a Western in the best ways
Although some viewers may be put off by the slow, talky nature of A Perfect Day for Caribou, Jeff Rutherford has managed to create something poetic and moving. As Rutherford’s feature debut, this movie shows that he will be a huge deal on the indie scene one day.
A Perfect Day for Caribou is playing as part of the 2023 Slamdance Film Festival, which runs in-person in Park City, UT from January 20-26 and online from January 23-29.