'Maine' Review: A Wilderness Journey About Neither The Destination Nor The Journey [Tribeca]

If you see Maine features a woman hiking a trail alone and assume you're in for a retread of Wild, think again. In upstart director Matthew Brown's sophomore feature, we see people fleeing the burdens of their life in the great outdoors in search of escape and fulfillment – but ultimately finding neither. The answers to life's problems do not simply appear out of thin air in the woods, as much as the film's two hikers might try to will them into existence. And yet, there's catharsis in the film's complete lack of cathartic moments, just as there's deep feeling in the emotional reserve and an intense connection with characters who can never get outside of themselves to connect to each other.

Brown's story follows a girl and guy hiking the Appalachian Trail who started their journeys separately but have decided to team up for the time being. Laia Costa's Bluebird is married, we learn later in the film, so there's no overt sexual tension between her and Thomas Mann's Lake. The usual "will they or won't they?" cloud casts no shadow over their tandem trek, but there's a persistent sense that they are always on the edge of breaking through to each other. Neither lets the trail take them over, however. Bluebird's marital woes never find alleviation, and Lake's pining for his deceased parents never really abates. They can't fix each other or really even push each other toward the right path – but neither can nature.

Remarkably, Maine never feels like some kind of pointed rejoinder to the wilderness self-discovery narrative that serves as a popular fantasy. Brown sets out to provide a candid depiction of two people who can never quite get out of their own way, and he succeeds at doing just that. The film follows a natural rhythm that ebbs and flows with the natural beats of life. Even the first 10 minutes, which unfold without any spoken dialogue, never feel like the kind of obvious stylistic strut they might be in the hands of a brasher director. The opening fixates on the small but revealing processes of the hike, grace notes without grace.

Brown seems to thrive in the silence between moments, those awkward stretches we feel pressured to fill with noise but often lack any idea what to say. There are no phones in Maine, but their rewiring of the human consciousness seems to linger in the stilted communication between Bluebird and Lake. Costa is mesmerizing as a cipher to others and herself, but Mann in particular brings this awkwardness to life to devastating effect. In his interpretation, Lake is an odd blend of cockiness and dorkiness. He's clearly used to occupying these down beats with the sound of his own voice, yet the nebulously defined situations with Bluebird frequently reduce him to speechlessness. His eyes often wander around a space to avoid conversation, capturing a sensation that our busy culture rarely stops to portray with revelatory effect.

Brown quickly locates the speed of life and then rarely falls off the pace. There's no conventional tension, conflict or antagonist in Maine, yet the film never lacks compulsion. We're drawn in by the honesty, the ugly and unvarnished truth of how two broken, beaten people connect. Stripped of armchair philosophizing or cheap psychiatry, Brown lets us observe, reflect and learn. In other words, just what Bluebird and Lake seem incapable of doing. The journey is just a journey, and the destination is just a destination. Even so, we're better for having shared a little bit of time with the characters.

/Film rating: 8 out of 10