PARACHUTE (SXSW2023)- Review by Diane Carson

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When director Brittany Snow introduced the SXSW world premiere of her directorial debut film Parachute, she acknowledged its autobiographical elements. As co-writer, along with Becca Gleason, Snow delivers an honest representation of what too many women in our appearance obsessed society find impossible to avoid; that is, comparison to other women perceived always as more perfect resulting in harmful emotional and physical denigration of self, too often leading to eating disorders.

This describes Riley, just leaving a rehab facility as the film begins. Ready to celebrate, at a bar with her friend Casey, Riley meets and begins a relationship with Ethan, dejected from a recent break-up and just out of an overnight jail stay for hitting a police car with a wine bottle he’d thrown off a balcony. A bit too obviously, neither person embodies psychological stability. Over the next couple years, their roller coaster relationship hits meaningful highs and lows. Ethan hangs around for all the drama and trauma, with revelations late in the film of his alcoholic father’s impact on his dysfunctional behavior. Further pursuing possible origins of self-destructive ideation, a late appearance by Riley’s mother reveals her pervasive negativity.

Though at times meandering and awkward (how many people don’t know how to screw in a lightbulb, even if this is meant to be a metaphor), the film exposes the enabling involvement of co-dependents and the largely ineffective guidance of the therapist, played with calm demeanor by Gina Rodriguez.

For explicitly dramatizing the chaotic nature of this societal ill, especially for women, Parachute deserves considerable praise. At the SXSW Q&A, Snow described her own history, noting there was a real Ethan during her battle with anorexia which she disclosed in a 2007 op-ed. Snow added that her love story was more altruistic, but also spoke of the difficult, and often self-defeating, struggle to support someone through the pain of their learning to love themselves. Snow’s narrative expands on the usual superficial presentation of such mental health issues, for she knows and depicts the difficulty of Riley “being alone with her own thoughts, how often ideas of how she hates yourself intrude.” Therefore, moments of silence were used to signal when Riley shuts off her brain.

As Riley, Courtney Eaton (known from her role in Yellowjackets) exudes a charm and loveable quality despite her problems, an important character appeal for viewers to think about the issues rather than reacting to an off-putting personal ordeal. As Ethan, Thomas Mann delivers appropriate, low key energy, anchoring and thereby inviting thoughtful consideration of many scenes. Riley and Ethan’s at times volatile interaction hits the right note. We root for them even as we see their personality impasse. Above all, as Snow has said several times, the message is clear. “You must learn to love yourself before you can actually give yourself to and love somebody else.” She said Parachute proved cathartic, part of her healing process. Here’s hoping it benefits many in similar states, especially given the recent statistics on depression and suicide of young women and men.

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Diane Carson

Diane Carson, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, has reviewed films for over 25 years and has covered the Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, Palm Springs, and Sundance festivals. She writes for KDHX, 88.1 FM. St. Louis’ community radio. One of the founders of the St. Louis International Film Festival, she continues to serve on juries. A past president of the University Film and Video Association, she taught film studies and production at St. Louis Community College and at Webster University. Her new book, written with two colleagues, is “Appetites and Anxieties: Food, Film, and the Politics of Representation,” Wayne State U. Press, 2014.