Jaron Albertin’s mix of crisp realism and oblique dream logic results in a haunting experience: Watching Weightless feels like being trapped in the first moments of wakefulness, when the dreamscape is receding and half-formed impressions linger in the backwash. Still, while his first feature (shot by Darren Lew) may be gorgeous, the characters in this rural family drama prove so amorphous that their struggles engender detachment instead of empathy.

Joel (Alessandro Nivola), a lost soul who just wants to vanish from his unsatisfying life, is reunited with his son Will (Eli Haley) after the 10-year-old’s mother vanishes. Albertin and co-screenwriter Enda Walsh (Hunger) treat this disappearance as an excuse for Will to stare placidly at the (inexplicably acquired) cashier surveillance footage of her last traceable moments. Both Joel and Will have serious emotional problems that are barely addressed, let alone defined.

Swinging between stultifying passivity and aggression-triggered rages, Joel is poorly suited to care for an abandoned, bullied boy with obesity-related health issues. (Albertin makes the only nonwhite residents in their upstate New York community social service employees whom Joel deems the “enemy.”) Nivola has stripped his character to bare bones, sinking into Joel’s protective despair, but some of his usual charisma emerges in scenes with newcomer Haley, who beautifully expresses wariness with a dose of hope.

Julianne Nicholson (as Joel’s maternal girlfriend) and Johnny Knoxville (playing Joel’s paternal supervisor at work) give rich, naturalistic performances. They hint at the expectations and compromises of working-class life, which Albertin would rather coat in glorious autumnal imagery and a gossamer folk-tinged soundtrack than recognize its hard-won dignity.

Review by Serena Donadoni
Released on November 9, 2018 by Paladin
First published in LA Weekly, 2018.