REFUGE Weaves Sweetness And Sadness

Refuge opens in New York on March 28, 2014 at the Village East, and in L.A. on April 4, 2014 at the Sundance Sunset 5 from Strand Releasing.

A young man visits a bar while driving through a random town and meets a local girl. The pair strike up a conversation and find the company agreeable. They take a chance on spending a night together, and the next morning the stranger takes his leave.

But what if it didn’t end there?

This is the premise put forth in Jessica Goldberg’s drama Refuge. Inside each of these two lonely people is a beating heart and kindred spirit. Both have pain buried deep within, and live with the difficult circumstances life has dealt them.

Sam (Brian Geraghty, The Hurt Locker) is a drifter who wanders from town to town in his pickup truck. Why his life has arrived at this nomadic existence is not immediately explained.

Amy (Krysten Ritter from Breaking Bad) is a young woman, yet also a mother figure to her two needy teenage siblings. Her brother Nat (Logan Huffman) suffered a brain tumor some years ago which has since been removed. As a result his cognitive abilities are stunted, his physical movements are impaired, and he is particularly prone to aggressiveness, paranoia, and hysteria. Meanwhile the youngest, Lucy (Madeleine Martin), is at an age of rebellion and experimentation, and starved for attention.

After their memorable one night stand, faced with no future ahead and a sense of fleeting happiness, Sam stops his truck, collects his thoughts, and decides to take another chance at something bigger. He heads back to Amy’s place and asks if he can stay with them for awhile — and their journey begins.

It doesn’t take long for Sam and Amy to fall deeply in love with each other, but their relationship is fraught with difficulty. He is unemployed and she earns only a meager living stuffing envelopes. Nat and Lucy are jealous that someone else is commanding their sister’s attention, and terrified that he will take her away from them. Sam, on the other hand, yearns to break through to Nat and Lucy but can’t get win their trust — they deeply resent his presence. Moreover, all four characters have painful memories and crippling fears that manifest themselves in their daily lives.

At one point Nat asks Amy, “What is love like?”. Her response is a perfect summation of the struggle that she (and everyone, really) faces: “It’s wonderful… but it doesn’t make everything wonderful”.

Refuge is essentially about the need for broken and incomplete people to find completeness in each other. This is reinforced symbolically throughout the film. Nat, as a result of his brain surgery, is literally missing a piece of himself. Amy owns a home, but has no car. Sam is homeless but has his truck. Together, they share their resources and manage to get by. This is not an easy Hollywood romance where the hero gets the girl and everything wraps up neatly. As in life, a whole lot of ongoing love, hard work, and sacrifice will be required to make things work.

The film does veer into the predictable “indie drama” trope of having a soft acoustic soundtrack, but the music fits the melancholy tone of the film well. Any other sound would probably ring false.

I approached Refuge blindly but enjoyed it quite a bit. It’s low-key and endearingly sweet without any false sentimentality, and weaves hardship and hope into a meaningful fabric. There aren’t a lot of big sweeping emotional punches, but rather touching smaller moments and quiet flourishes. Impressively, it manages to be a pleasant film despite dealing with a lot of unpleasant aspects of life.

A/V Out.

Originally published at on March 28, 2014.

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