Tiger Tail in Blue could be described as a typical mumblecore movie (with the emphasis on mumble), but it is so much more than that. Our job at The Filmtransition is to bring to your attention those wonderful indie gems that you otherwise might miss. And this is one of them. Frank V. Ross already made seven films since the early 2000’s but seems to have some trouble distributing them properly. Appropriately, his Tiger Tail in Blue has gotten a nomination for “Best film not playing at a theater near you” at the Gotham Independent Film Awards, and was mentioned in an article about the “Best undistributed films of 2012” on Indiewire. Despite getting into big festivals like SXSW, his films remain too little known. But this does not mean Ross is not right up there with other independent filmmaker ‘stars’ of his generation, like Joe Swanberg. Ross has already worked together with Swanberg on several projects. And Swanberg seems to appreciate Ross’s solo projects as well, as he put Tiger Tail in Blue on the top of his “best movies of 2013” list. And he has a point there.
As Swanberg mentions, Ross perfectly depicts the life of the working-class in suburbs of Chicago – those not so hipster, not so rich, but fascinating young people with dead-end jobs and no particular interest in culture. Yet it never turns into some typical social conscious drama like Ramin Bahrani tends to be guilty of. Ross has a remarkable approach in dealing with real life people in real life situations, portraying them in a way approaching the ‘lived experience’ as much as possible. And it never gets boring at all. The conversations might seem improvised in a Cassavetes or Swanberg kind of way, but his films are carefully scripted. He, nonetheless, hates and evades exposition, so the spectator gets thrown straight into the story without any conventional narrative explanations. And without a turning point forcing the protagonists’ personalities to evolve. I personally love it when a film includes scenes that are not part of the overarching plot. Usually, with regular Hollywood films, every act, incident or image shown, has meaning. That is rather ridiculous since in real life, in the end, nothing has meaning. Life is full of stories without any logic, structure or an ending denouement.
Tiger Tail in Blue is a very realist story about Christopher who works in a restaurant at night while Melody, his wife and a teacher, is correcting tests and is waiting for him at home. She usually falls asleep because he gets home from work very late. Quite often he stays at work longer so he can have a drink with his colleague Brandy. The film puts this love triangle on display, although it might take a little while for the viewer to realize this. This is because Ross uses the same actress, Rebecca Spence, to play both leading ladies. In the end, Brandy switches to actress Megan Mercier to make clear it is a different person. Before that, call it a Buñuelian or Lynchian moment, I was puzzled with the time leaps within the story and thought maybe he was using flashbacks.
Christopher is a very real guy, in the sense that, like with most people, you do not like him or hate him. He is just a normal and neutral guy whom you can easily identify yourself with. Most of the time he has something to say about everything, from philosophical gibberish (no, actually it’s quite interesting) to complaining about older people calling him a ‘man’. But he is totally silent around Brandy’s roommate who grumbles about the mind numbing impact of reality TV shows and the infamous, irritating ‘just-argument’.
Spence and Ross are very convincing as a couple, almost to the point that it would not surprise me if they were seeing each other in real life. As a duo, they have a chemistry almost reminiscence of that of Linklater’s Before… trilogy, Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage (1973) and any Woody Allen or French Nouvelle Vague film. Even though a lot of the incidents seem totally random, they all quite hit the nail on its head, in terms of important recognizable relationship moments. Next to fights, there are also some adorable loving moments like a little awkward dance in the living room, and a desperate drunk dial by Melody who clumsily explains she is missing him. The discussions lay bare Christopher’s passive attitude and Melody’s frustrations as the economical responsible half of the two. She has a stable and time consuming day-job, while he is the typical aspiring writer. Tiger Tail in Blue deals with the kind of difficult and highly personal marriage issues people actually try to escape from when they go to the cinema.
This does not mean people should not go watch this magnificent piece of work. Quite to the contrary.
Sadly, the only way to see it now is if it gets a screening in your local theater in the near future.
Or to watch it on the awesome video on demand website fandor.com:
Here is the trailer.