Marriage, like life, is a complicated beast — and there often aren’t clear-cut answers and easy resolutions when things get messy. That compelling theme is the dynamic at the heart of Hilary Brougher’s intimate, poignant drama South Mountain, which follows Lila (Talia Balsam) over the course of a summer as her marriage crumbles and the world she knows shifts into new and discomforting directions.
Lila and her husband, Edgar (Scott Cohen), live in a comfortably cluttered, lushly overgrown house in the Catskills with their teenage daughters. Life is mellow and includes friends, art, drinks, a sauna, and plenty of laughter. Until, that is, Lila finds out that Edgar has fathered a child with another woman and wants out of their marriage. Since it’s not the first time he’s strayed, Lila seems sure that this is just a blip — but maybe it’s not. And, if that’s the case, what happens next?
South Mountain is a quiet film; Lila and Edgar don’t scream at each other or throw things (he upends a table at one point, but it doesn’t seem like anything actually breaks). Life goes on, even when they’re negotiating the fragile new terms of their relationship as parents, friends, and former lovers. She putters around their house — which feels even emptier while the girls are gone for the summer — and flirts with the last person she’d expect. She adapts.
Balsam gives a beautifully natural, realistic performance as Lila — she never feels anything less than wholly authentic. Lila knows as well as anyone that life isn’t always black or white (it turns out she and Edgar have a complex history), and Balsam makes her so relatable that you forgive her for choices that seem shortsighted or self-defeating. Ultimately, in Lila, Brougher has created a woman who has lived long enough to know that while there are no easy answers, there’s also no reason to wallow in misery. — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
MaryAnn Johanson Hilary Brougher’s incisive drama is an acutely observed, slow-motion female midlife crisis, one we haven’t really seen the likes of before. Talia Balsam is terrific as a woman who gets the rug pulled out from under her in a way that she is barely surprised by yet hasn’t prepared for. So many small, lovely details here speak to what makes up a woman’s life, from the friendship and support of other women to the unreliability of men, especially when they want it all but don’t seem inclined to offer women the same option. Brougher’s low-key, meandering storytelling is a beautiful complement to Balsam’s Lila, a complicated, problematic mess stumbling her way to a new beginning.
Nell Minow: Talia Balsam gives a performance of such closely observed specificity that “South Mountain” feels like a home movie of a family’s minute-by-minute unraveling, with piercing intimacy and deep understanding.
Jennifer Merin Writer/director Hilary Brougher’s indie drama, South Mountain, is a poignant and beautifully crafted portrait of the end of a marriage and the dissolution of a family — from the woman’s point of view. Talia Balsam’s honest and nuanced performance as the still-in-love Lila is supported by a wonderful ensemble.
Leslie Combemale Families are made up of individuals, who are often filled with secrets, loneliness, and insecurity, and sometimes people in those families can’t help but make all that infinitely worse by the choices they make. Still, rituals, memories, and a connectedness through time can help keep families, however dysfunctional, stay together. If luck and a bit of fearlessness is on their side, it can even play a part in healing. That’s the essence at the center of writer/director Hilary Brougher’s South Mountain. The film doesn’t portray any one character as good or healthy or even, at times, sane. Led by Taila Balsam’s Lila, who questions her life as a mother, a wife, and a woman when the philandering husband she loves leaves her for another life, every family member represented has their own issues, and when they come together, whether to forgive or betray, their experiences are both heartbreaking and cathartic for the audience.
Loren King A portrait of a woman coping — or not coping — with fissures in her marriage and shifts in her family relationships, Hilary Brougher’s quietly effective South Mountain is a welcome showcase for an understated performance from Talia Balsam. She plays Lila, a middle aged artist living in the bucolic Catskills, married to philandering Edgar (Scott Cohen) and mom to two maturing daughters. “There’s nothing wrong with me,” she tells the young man who turns up with eldest daughter Sam for a visit. The film explores Lila’s brittleness and her fluctuating emotions — denial, anger that results in Lila trying to poison Edgar, a hungry fling with the young man and, later, a bittersweet longing for reconciliation and connection with Edgar despite the deep well of hurt and resentment — without expected or easy sentiment.
Sandie Angulo Chen: Talia Balsam gives an extraordinary performance in writer-director Hilary Brougher’s South Mountain, a powerful and devastating portrait of a middle-aged woman coming to terms with the end of her marriage. This is not Marriage Story told in both points of view; it’s firmly rooted in the wife Lila’s perspective. Balsam humanizes Lila, who desperately (somewhat incomprehensibly) wants to save her marriage to her unfaithful husband Edgar (Scott Cohen). Set entirely in Talia’s verdant, Catskills home and wooded surroundings, the film captures the range of emotions following the discovery of a marriage’s inevitable demise. This wasn’t a particularly opportune film to watch on Mother’s Day of all days, but it is an impressive, quiet, and beautiful family drama.
Liz Whittemore South Mountain is about intimacy and human connection. The need to feel, something, anything, is uncontrollable. The audience experiences volatility through the screen. A line in the script pinpoints the overall feeling: “Where there is love, there’s a potential for violence.” The viewer is waiting for the pot to boil over at any moment. Read full review.
Susan Wloszczyna: Hillary Brougher’s South Mountain presents a portrait of a family that is teetering on the brink of dissolution amid the scenic splendor of the Catskill Mountains. In the end, Lila, the family matriarch, seems to be somewhat at peace even if she has picked up the habit of smoking. As Gloria Gaynor might say, she will survive. Read full review.
Marina Antunes Talia Balsam gives a wonderful performance as Lila in Hilary Brougher’s South Mountain, a raw look at how a woman deals with a cheating husband who reveals he’s had a baby by another woman. Brougher’s film feels authentic and she really captures the confusion of emotions that includes betrayal, hurt, love and anger, which sometimes makes the movie difficult watch but ultimately rewarding.
Cate Marquis Writer/director Hilary Brougher’s South Mountain is a portrait of a marriage, a long one unraveling, and particularly of the woman in that marriage. Artist Lila (Talia Balsam) and her screenwriter husband Edgar (Scott Cohen) raising their teenage daughters in a rural cottage. When their rural idyll is shattered by a revelation, we think we know where this story is headed. But it takes unexpected turns, and we never know where it will head next, as it explores their complicated marriage. The tale is told from the viewpoint of Lila, a charismatic, self-possessed woman, in a striking performance by Balsam. The drama has the powerful combination of unique, realistic characters we care about and a story whose twists we can’t predict.
Title: South Mountain
Director: Hilary Brougher
Release Date: May 5, 2020
Running Time: 82 minutes
Screenwriter: Hilary Brougher
Distribution Company: Breaking Glass Pictures
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Marina Antunes, Nikki Baughan, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Pam Grady, MaryAnn Johanson, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna
Edited by Jennifer Merin