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The Independent Critic - October 1, 2009 - A-

Love.

It changes everything, doesn't it?

We get in relationships, we go through the motions, we carry out our responsibilities and fulfill our duties both real and imagined.

Sometimes, love is pushed aside.

We coast.

In "Coasting," Wesley (Jonathan C. Legat, "White Out") meets Lauren (Stephanie Wyatt, "Off-Loop") in a hotel bar one late night in the small town of Stillwater, Illinois.

It is a chance meeting, not far removed from that of Bill Nighy and Kelly MacDonald in the magnificent "The Girl in the Cafe." The meeting is, at first glance, a largely innocent meeting filled with pleasant conversation, genuine laughs, heartfelt attention and, oh yeah, connection. Genuine human connection.

Wesley and Lauren return to their normal lives, yet their normal lives no longer feel normal...if they ever did.

Wesley is unsatisfied in a dead-end job he abhors, while Lauren's career as a photographer isn't going where she'd like it to go. Both Wesley and Lauren are married to, on the surface, seemingly idyllic partners who are stable, at least modestly attentive, functional and, yet, they are largely going through the disconnected motions of merely functioning in relationships that should be vibrant, passionate, energized and alive.

As time goes on, the memory of that connection lingers and, perhaps serendipitously, the two connect once again in, yes, that same Stillwater hotel bar.

This time, the passion will not be denied and the two succumb to their emotional and physical desires. After this encounter, both Wesley and Lauren face, with heartbreaking yet resonant authenticity, the remaining shards of their lives while defending these feelings for one another.

With "Coasting," director Michael P. Noens and co-writer David B. Grelck have that mixes the awkward discomfort of Zach Braff's indie gem "Garden State" with the tenderness and quiet intimacy of the aforementioned "The Girl in the Cafe." The resulting film is a film that simultaneously funny and endearing, heartbreaking and yet genuinely hopeful in the truest of ways that hope can be birthed out of our life experiences.

I remember after viewing Jonathan C. Legat's last film, the Grelck directed "White Out," this feeling of "If only Legat had really let go and offered a bit more vulnerability, this film would have truly soared." In "Coasting," Legat truly soars and takes the film right along with him giving a performance that is equal parts vulnerable, funny, raw and honest.

Fortunately, for audiences and Legat, co-star Stephanie Wyatt serves up an equally vulnerable, funny, raw and honest performance as the young woman whose true self has become stifled personally and professionally. Wyatt's Lauren is simultaneously a mature woman and innocent child, a young woman who seemingly longs for the intangible in her very tangible world.

"Coasting" is a deceptive film, much like Braff's "Garden State," in that the film occasionally feels off-kilter, uncomfortable and even distant. Yet, as the relationship between Wesley and Lauren develops it becomes clear how beautifully this works as it becomes painfully obvious how uncomfortable Wesley and Lauren truly are within their own lives and themselves. This "discomfort" begins to dissipate as they discover connection, an emotional truth to which most of us who've experienced unhealthy relationships seguing into healthy relationships would testify.

It becomes easy to understand, minus the usual Hollywood-style dramatics and histrionics, just why these two individuals feel so connected to one another and disconnected from everyone and everything else.

This patient development, a bold move cinematically, gives the film's closing scenes an emotional depth that drives the film home, though there are times when the move falls short as in Wesley's scenes in his office. The office scenes, which could and should reinforce the dissatisfaction in Wesley's life too often appear more like cartoonish deleted scenes from "Office Space."

Tech credits are solid across the board, with kudos especially going to Danny Crook's stellar camera work and truly killer original music from Geoff Shell.

There are moments in "Coasting" that feel very, very real.

Have you ever longed for something or someone?

Have you ever wondered "Why am I not happy?"

Have you ever, much to your own surprise, discovered a very real connection in the most unexpected of places?

We all have, I believe. The longing for and celebration of inward and outward connection are an inherent human experience with all its joys and sorrows.

With "Coasting," director Michael P. Noens and co-writer David B. Grelck along with their entire cast have captured those pristine moments of humanity in all their awkward and awesome vulnerability and brought them simply and beautifully to life.