There’s a lot going on in this troubled-girl-on-a-journey story, which recalls the late-’90s proliferation of books like Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Prozac Nation and Susanna Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted. Brittany Snow’s directing debut doesn’t so much add to that canon as dust it down a bit for a new generation, and its success is mostly attributable to its empathetic star Courtney Eaton — the deserving winner of a SXSW Special Jury Recognition for Performance — whose low-key work anchors a needlessly busy film that never quite settles down.
A lot is packed into the opening salvo, from the moment we see Riley (Eaton) sitting on the curb outside a forbiddingly nondescript building, scrolling through pages and pages of narcissistic Instagram influencers. It will come as no surprise when we find out, shortly after that, that she’s been in for a fairly serious disorder she’ll describe variously as “an eating thing” and “body stuff”, but that doesn’t stop her best friend from insisting they go out for a mutual’s party night. This is where Riley meets the scruffy, non-threatening Ethan (Thomas Mann), a music A&R man who used to be in a hipster band called (of course!) Neon Porches. “2017 Brooklyn gold!” enthuses Riley, who turns out to be a fan.
Can Riley get over her ex, deal with her body-image anxiety and go steady with Ethan, who is just out of stir himself following a brief custodial sentence for vandalism? The program she’s on says that she’s not to date anyone for a year, but Riley throws all caution to the wind and sort-of dates Ethan on a friends-with-benefits basis.
Things seem to improve for her when she gets a job with a murder-mystery dinner theatre company that is run by Bryce (played by Dave Bautista, who pops up in a cameo that is by no means the most unexpected thing to happen in this movie). But instead, things just get more complicated, as Riley suddenly starts dating a bartender at work (one of several moments where a scene or two seems to be missing), Ethan has issues both with his ex and his alcoholic father, and, right on cue, Riley’s no-longer-absent mother arrives, a piece of work direct from Central Casting. Instead of de-escalating things, however, what happens after that simply adds to the bedlam. But to be fair, what emerges from this increasingly over-dramatic drama is unusual for the genre: when the harsh light of reality shines in Riley’s face after a long, dark night of the soul, she finally gets the wake-up call she needs.
Surprisingly, the point you might expect to be labored — her issue with body image — is delicately handled, and these are the better moments, either when Riley is alone with her thoughts, mulling over the real-life nightmares of the past, or in sessions with her therapist. Disappointingly, there’s a lot of extraneous commotion all around it that, rather like its main character, makes Parachute kind of hard to warm to.
Festival: SXSW, Narrative Feature Competition
Director: Brittany Snow
Screenwriter: Brittany Snow, Becca Gleason
Cast: Courtney Eaton, Thomas Mann, Francesca Reale
Running time: 1hr 37