Porches And Private Eyes


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Porches And Private Eyes
"There's a soap opera character to this which is likely to divide viewers."

Since time immemorial, women have been chided for gossiping - for communicating about lives which, as a rule, have not been trivial as a matter of choice. Travis Mills' latest film is a tribute to such women, acknowledging how ludicrous rumours can become but celebrating the creative passion involved and placing its heroines at the centre of their own story.

Patsy (Marlene Cupit), Ann Margaret (Lynn Forney) and Jenny (Elise McMurry) meet regularly out on their sunlit porches to update one another on the latest goings on in a town so small that scandal is thin on the ground. The arrival of a stranger in that town naturally produces some excitement, especially as Ann Margaret, who has something of a reputation for working her way through men - and not leaving them in great shape afterwards - thinks he's good looking. He also seems mysterious, however, and the fact that a local man has disappeared from circulation at around the same time leads to the women convincing themselves that the stranger has done away with him. When the local sheriff doesn't believe them, they become determined to find out for themselves. What follows is a game but uneven comedy exploring the difficulties of combining amateur sleuthing with domestic responsibilities.

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Mills has a stronger story than in his previous work but parts of it feel forced; the pacing is off at the start and only in the latter half does it really come together. There's a soap opera character to this, enhanced by a theatre metaphor, which is likely to divide viewers. Given this, a lot of the weight of carrying the film falls on the actors. McMurry is the strongest of the central three and is aided by a subplot about business woes which gives her meatier material to work with, but is sadly reduced to standing on the sidelines in the final scenes, despite being the focus of them. Cupit does well to generate sympathy in the most lightweight role and make her flighty character feel like a human being. To non-Southern US audiences, her breathy style comes across as very affected, but it makes sense in context and she lets us see enough of what lies underneath.

Although Porches And Private Eyes is structured as comedy there are few laugh out loud moments; the humour is found more in the absurdity of the situations the women get into, and in sidelong comment on Southern social behaviour more generally. Importantly, this never comes across as snide. Whilst the women are sometimes foolish, they are not portrayed as stupid; they're warm-hearted and their stubborn perseverance has a certain charm. The film is a bit of a departure for Mills and the learning curve involved is starkly apparent, but it's interesting as an insider's look at a culture Hollywood tends either to patronise or to ignore.

Reviewed on: 25 Sep 2016
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Porches And Private Eyes packshot
Three women become suspicious after a local man goes missing. Dismissed by the local sheriff, they decide to switch gossip for action.

Director: Travis Mills

Writer: Travis Mills

Starring: Marlene Cupit, Lynn Forney, Elise McMurry, Jeremy Sande, Michael Randall, Cotton Yancey, Bo Pennington, James Minter

Year: 2016

Runtime: 94 minutes

Country: US


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