Set in the North Woods at the turning of leaves, actor/filmmaker Karl Jacob’s microbudget “Pollywogs” may be a regionally specific addition to the Minnesota movie canon, but it’s hardly the first work of popular art to put Hibbing on the map. Indeed, this freewheelin’ comedy/drama knowingly neighbors an essential stretch of American cultural history; not for nothing is the twenty-something character played by Jacob known as — you betcha — Dylan.
After screenings last year at the Los Angeles Film Festival and the Twin Cities Film Fest, “Pollywogs” is now available for streaming on demand via iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu and Google Play.
Introduced while nursing a broken heart in New York City, Dylan — tangled up in blue, you might say — decides to lick his wounds at a family reunion back home in Goodland, a tiny township southwest of Hibbing. On the Wiiliainen clan’s lovely lakefront property, amid tubing, target practice and breeze-shooting with his laid-back kinfolk, Dylan reunites with Sarah (Kate Lyn Sheil), a childhood friend whom he hasn’t seen in almost 20 years.
Periodic flashbacks reveal that these two used to play house together, paint each other’s faces and lie side by side on the dock, while present-day scenes prove that, like the tadpoles of the title, they’re still in the larval stage of life. A childlike romantic on the rebound, Dylan nervously ponders hooking up with his old crush, while wallflower Sarah appears in a darker state of arrested development, probably owing to the years she spent as her parents’ prisoner at a religious compound in Colorado.
Building at a trolling motor’s low-horsepower pace toward a haunting finale, one that answers questions about the characters both subtly and definitively, “Pollywogs” will strike experienced movie lovers as being indebted to the Dogme and mumblecore movements, but it’s also rural Midwestern to the core.
Working with co-director T. Arthur Cottam, a largely improvised script and his own family members as supporting players, Jacob catches the peak of fall colors and the precise moment when young adult ennui turns, Iron Range style, to angst.
As a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country” would’ve been perfect to a fault, Jacob instead offers the Sans Souci Quartet’s hyperactively jangly “Rudy Perpich,” whose key lyric — “I don’t wanna leave this house on the lake” — fits plenty well.
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Another semi-comic study of kicking and screaming, “Adult World” stars Emma Roberts as a post-collegiate sex shop employee and aspiring poet whose total lack of writing talent doesn’t stop her from soliciting and eventually stalking Rat Billings (John Cusack), a past-his-prime author who reluctantly agrees to tolerate the 22-year-old in trade for her part-time housekeeping.
Middle-aged fans of Cusack’s own polliwog work in 1989’s “Say Anything” and such may shiver slightly at the role reversal here, particularly as the well-named Rat, bitter and mean, has nothing but sarcastic disdain for his would-be pupil, some of it funny and much of it simply painful.
As for Roberts, her ungainly, gangly, fitfully embarrassing turn is just about ideal for the story of an awkward and entitled woman child who still expects the adult world to service her desires.