West of Her (2016)
Directed by Ethan Warren
In writer-director Ethan Warren’s film debut, “West of Her,” the semantics of the word “love” seem to take priority over the romance itself. The difference between “I think I love you” vs. “I love you” vs. “I’m in love with you” quickly become more important to the characters than the actual chemistry shared between actors Kelsey Sieper and Ryan Caraway, of which there is little. They play Jane and Dan, strangers who are paired up to travel cross-country committing Bansky-like artistic crimes. Jane just does it for kicks, an excuse to see the vast and beautiful landscapes of the American West. Dan believes in the art’s power to affect real change, to make a person happier. On this they disagree, but, inevitably, romance quickly blooms anyway.
Playing the more seasoned criminal artist, Kelsey Sieper holds her cards close. Compared with Ryan Caraway, she’s more charismatic and enigmatic, and much more fun to watch. Caraway is more downtrodden, lifeless, and hard to be interested in—plus, his intermittent asthmatic breathing is super annoying. His character’s predictable sob story gets old pretty quickly. I watched the whole movie, but I was over it about halfway through. Warren tries to instill backstories into his characters, but they feel unfinished. Sure, there have been good films in the past that have skipped backstories and jumped right in…but “West of Her” doesn’t give us much to jump into, either. The plot is mostly a mystery, with the characters admitting they’re as clueless about what they’re doing as we are. Who funds all the costs of travel and food and lodging? Just for a few art installations in small-town U.S.A. that in the grand scheme of things affect the lives of very few people? Seems pointless. Like “West of Her.”
The folksy soundtrack and original song fit the beautiful cinematography, but the plot is ultimately a distraction for what might have been a decent music video. Just shave off 80 minutes and call it a day.