The Dust Storm (Review)

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By: Marianne Paluso (@Marianne_P81)

The concept of the romantic drama The Dust Storm is “what happens if the one that got away comes back?” And it definitely and brilliantly explores that in a film that is emotional, sometimes dark, sometimes light, and beautifully raw, poignant, real, and relatable. Love, life, and being vulnerable are all very scary and The Dust Storm showcases these things with vitality and authenticity, ending with a sense of hope that is both lovely and believable.

The film opens in Seattle on Brennan, a musician who is clearly broken and low, singing about his lost love Nora to a bar owner who cares very little for anything Brennan offers except for the money he could bring him. Cut to seven years later in Nashville and Brennan is noticeably different, looking more clean-cut and on a business trip and working for a corporation named Vero Tech. But deep down, not much has changed. He still is feeling lost and unhappy, just going through motions and trying to find something real to hold onto. As fate would have it, he runs into Nora, the love he’s held onto all these years. As for Nora, she puts on a brave front but is not much happier, fed up with her fiancé, jaded, and clearly scared of opening herself up to any kind of vulnerability. After an awkward first conversation that anyone who has run into an ex they’re not quite over can relate to, Brennan and Nora spend the rest of the film reconnecting and exploring the intrinsic connection they have for each other. And the result is often beautiful and moving, and brings forth the idea that some people come into our lives exactly when we need them the most.

There truly was so much to love about The Dust Storm from the performances to the direction to the music. As I was watching, the tone reminded me a bit of the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and came to discover that writer Ryan Lacen worked and studied under that film’s director Michel Gondry. The influence is apparent but make no mistake – this film has its own unique style in both dialogue and direction which is by Lacen and Anthony Baldino. Another unique and wonderful element was the editing by Ben La Marca which had dialogue and music often crosscutting over a scene. It’s this sort of nonlinear scene-within-the-same-scene approach that I really loved and found to be especially effective.

The cast and performances were all stellar. As a fan of their sweet characters on Nashville and Parks and Recreation respectively, it was great seeing Chris Carmack and Jim O’Heir play characters that were completely polar opposites from those. The heart of the film, and 99% of the screen time, belongs to Colin O’Donoghue and Kristen Gutoskie who play the long-lost lovers, and the film’s shoulders rest on the two of them and their chemistry, and it was very real, lovely, and believable. You truly felt the tension and awkwardness of their reunion, the passion of their deep connection, the familiarity of two people who know each other well, as well as the sadness of that attempt to recapture something that may or not be possible. Individually, Gutoskie (whom I was not familiar with, but is known for The Vampire Diaries) played the dichotomy of Nora’s character very well, a girl who can be funny and light but is masking a great deal of loneliness and fear of vulnerability, giving a lovely performance. And the film truly shines with O’Donoghue’s performance, playing Brennan’s heartbreak, melancholy, openness, sweetness, angers, and fears with stunning brilliance. Brennan’s guarded heart is unable to stay as such when the love of his life returns and O’Donoghue showcased this with beautiful and very emotional believability. If you can truly sense what a character is feeling not just through tone, but also expression and subtle affectations, that’s acting at its finest, and O’Donoghue brings the same sincerity he showcases every week as Killian Jones on Once Upon a Time to Brennan, a character who is decidedly different but nonetheless deep and relatable.

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What I also found particularly unique, engaging, and effective was the way certain abstractions were very much supporting characters in the film. One of these undoubtedly is alcohol as Brennan and Nora drink to excess in multiple scenes. While I’m not always a fan of the way modern film depicts drinking, what I appreciated was that while not necessarily condemning it, also was not glorifying it. Rather, it depicted a very realistic look at the way in which people often use alcohol – to lessen pain or awkwardness. Another one of these abstractions is the city of Nashville and its vital and diverse music scene. Throughout the entire film, we are treated to short vignettes of musicians in all different walks of life and in all different sorts of places – from a hotel lounge to the street, to a club or honkey-tonk, to a bridge or park – and all of these involve different genres of music. We think of Nashville as the home of country music and while that was featured, we also see acoustic, rock, bluegrass, and blues. Nashville and its rich music scene is undoubtedly another character in this film and if you wanted to visit the city previously, that desire will definitely grow. It did for me. The eclectic range of styles and songs adds a richness to the film and I’m happy to say that the music featured will be available to purchase upon release of the film. My favorites of these are the title song sung by O’Donoghue, performed with heart and fervor; the end credit duet “Over and Over,” a sweet song performed by O’Donoghue and Gutoskie whose voices blend quite well together; “Hindenburg,” a sad and beautifully resonant ballad by Gutoskie; as well as the soundtrack featured songs “Rise” by Stratisan; “Carry On” by Feedback Revival; and “Outer Space” by Red Wine Hangover.

Without spoiling too much of how the story unfolds, there are some final aspects of The Dust Storm that were beautifully executed: the music and words, and the simple settings and scenes, adding great depth and brevity to its themes. Two very sweet scenes involved Brennan and Nora revealing much about themselves in very simple ways. In one scene, the two close their eyes and think back on firsts and memories, while the other was them asking innocuous and fun questions while recording each other on their phones. These two moments were light in tone but deep in meaning. In a greeting card we see, the message reads “I found you on the moon and lost you in the stars, but I’m holding on tight, ” a lovely reflection of their relationship: two people who found each other, lost each other, but are still holding on tightly. It’s also a reflection of the rarity, beauty, and idealizing of love. An emotional and beautifully performed scene takes place in a swimming pool, and we see how the setting is very much a metaphor for that desire to find someone who is our lifeboat when it feels like we are drowning. We all long to rise up, and no longer sink our sorrows but rather float away in comfort and solace. Lastly, from the vignettes of various songs to the music that’s part of Brennan and Nora’s story, we see the ways in which music is employed is quite prescient. Both talented musicians, they had cast music aside but it begins to reawaken as their hearts do the same. A scene where Nora plays the piano and sings to Brennan is filled with such raw emotion and passion, and truly showed how music allows them to be vulnerable.

Perhaps the most affecting and relatable aspect of The Dust Storm is the way it portrays truths about love and life and the tremendous fears that go hand-in-hand with them. We never know what the future holds and sometimes it’s easier to shut down and seek out shallow connections because anything deeper means being vulnerable. Attempting to be impervious to the pain that relationships can bring is a losing battle. But in the end, as scary as it is, life is more meaningful with love. Things are not always easy. Relationships are not perfect, but regardless of the outcome, some people are just meant to come into our lives, often when we need them the most. One line from the title song expresses this notion so perfectly: “You never know what lies ahead on the road. You can lose your path and still find your way home. Just make it through the dust storm.” This is such a poignant truth and most certainly the overarching theme that we can take away from the film. Even if we lose our way in life, we can still find our way back. And in the end, The Dust Storm reminds us of those often elusive but sought after attributes: courage and hope.

The Dust Storm is unrated but by today’s standards it would be rated R for language, sexual content, and references, excessive drinking, and smoking. It available December 13 on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Instant, DVD, and Vimeo on demand and on January 10 on OnDemand (Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Optimum).


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