Just as I began to lose patience with Aaron Katz's Cold Weather -- what? Another movie about twenty-somethings figuring out their lives? -- it took a left turn and grabbed my attention. And held it for the rest of the movie.
It's a tightrope, to be sure. Devoting the first half-hour to the mopey doings of his aimless hero, Doug (Cris Lankenau), is a risky move. Katz is trying for a natural feeling which, unfortunately, doesn't feel the need to drop in the occasional witticism or moment of intense emotion, unlike, say, Lena Dunham's Tiny Furniture.
Doug has moved back to Portland and is living with his sister, Gail (Trieste Dunn), who he hasn't spent much time with in years. Having left college (where he was studying forensic science), Doug is at loose ends. He gets a job in an ice factory while he figures out his next move.
But then Doug and his pal, Carlos (Raul Castillo), stumble across a mystery and, inspired by reading Sherlock Holmes stories, they decide to play detective to figure it out. It has to do with Doug's ex-girlfriend, Rachel (Robyn Rikoon), who has just moved to Portland and who seems to have disappeared.
To Katz's credit, he doesn't turn Doug and Carlos into super-sleuths. But they do make some leaps of logic that seem like something out of a movie, rather than the kind of thing a pair of semi-slackers could figure out on their own.
The first half-hour of Cold Weather seems to promise the kind of self-indulgence that has marked much of what has come to be known as mumblecore. Doug has dropped out of school and takes a job hauling and stacking bags of ice, as meaningless a pursuit as you can imagine.
He befriends Carlos, a coworker, who talks about how to get by in the job and why so few people seem to stick with it. Well, duh -- they're hauling and stacking bags of ice. It's not rocket science.
But it does give you a lot of time to think about things, including why an ex-girlfriend might suddenly drop out of sight -- and where you'd look to find her.
Once Katz shifts gears into his low-key manhunt, Cold Weather will thaw the viewer a little, engaging him in more obvious ways, beyond offering a mirror to a certain kind of lifestyle. Katz's cast consists mostly of amateur actors, but they bring an unforced quality to the characters.
I'll say this for Cold Weather: This amateur-detective tale ignores the clichés of the form to forge its own path, right up to its surprising ending. It gives new meaning to the phrase "slice of life."