The Missing Girl is about a 40ish-year-old comic book store owner who learns to grow up and take responsibility for his life. That set-up sounds played out, I know, but The Missing Girl is worth your time. Rather than using the middle-aged man-child as fodder for easy comedy or easy tragedy, The Missing Girl gives us a complex set of characters who achieve character growth in modest and believable ways. The Missing Girl is a gentle film with loads of compassion and respect for both its characters and its audience.
Since the story centers on a comic book store owner, the film employs the common visual motif of setting its characters in panels on screen from time to time. While other movies use this technique as little more than a gag, writer/director A.D. Calvo and cinematographer Ava Berkofsky know how panels work in comics. They juxtapose images and change lighting schemes within panels to communicate the emotional states of the characters. It’s a nice touch that makes this simple story all the more compelling. The Missing Girl is also edited as well as any film I’ve seen this year. Michael Taylor knows how to create just enough tension when its needed, and he keeps the story moving along. There are times in the story when one character is in distress and another is hopeful. Taylor intercuts these storylines to give emotional scope to both characters’ arcs.
One of the best things about watching independent films is seeing highly skilled actors you likely don’t recognize doing remarkable work. In The Missing Girl, we get two of those kinds of performances, one from central character Robert Longstreet and another from the lead female performer Alexia Rasmussen. You might recognize Robert Longstreet from his work in two of our favorite films from the past few years – Take Shelter or This is Martin Bonner. He wasn’t the lead in either of those films, but he shines in his scenes. In The Missing Girl, he gives Mort an interior life that make him more compelling than the thousand and one man-boys filling up our movie screens these days. Alexis Rasmussen is so subtle yet tenacious as a girl doing what she can to get by, I wished the entire movie was about her character. Her’s is never a “big” performance even in scenes when it could have become one. She seems real.
Reality is a key part of this movie. It’s not particularly revelatory to make a movie about a comic book guy who needs to learn to value his real life over the heightened reality in the comics he enjoys, but The Missing Girl tells this story well by never letting the audience think the story is going to stray far from real life. There is an actual missing girl in this story, but while Mort suspects nefarious things of his neighbors, the movie keeps the mundane truth of the situation front and center for the audience. We don’t thrill to watch Mort’s foolish investigations. We mourn, because we know he needs to deal with real life instead of getting lost in fantasy. When he finally realizes this, there’s very real cathartic release for the audience. The Missing Girl is the kind of movie that makes you want to make the small changes that would fix what’s broken in your own life (if, indeed, small changes would fix it). The Missing Girl isn’t the most dramatic film of the year, but it’s among the most human. See it when you have the chance.
The Missing Girl is being featured in the 38th Denver Film Festival. More details and showtimes can be found here.