Channeling its theme of millennial ennui and disaffection, Bryan Reisberg’s handsomely crafted indie road trip comedy Big Significant Things has little to say, but says it with wit and style. Reisberg doesn’t pretend to have the answers, which doesn’t feel like a cop out since Craig Harrison–the neurotic, effete protagonist–doesn’t have any solutions. Harry simply indulges. What good reason can a man have for abandoning his girlfriend in the midst of house hunting to nurse his baseless anxieties and false pretense of traveling for work? Reisberg’s decision to avoid fleshing out the angst he depicts is refreshing. His leading man is kind of a mess, kind of a schmuck, and that’s kind of the point.
Craig is played by Harry Lloyd (from Game of Thrones), who quite easily manages to pull off the magic trick of instilling his character with immediate, dorky likeability. It’s easy to wince a bit at Craig and the innate petulance of his misguided mission through the South. At the same time, he’s a hard person to dislike. He’s like a bladder-happy puppy with a preference for the carpet in your living room. You’ll want to whack him on the nose with a rolled up newspaper, but you’ll feel bad about it.
That doesn’t make Craig’s actions less odious, of course, but Reisberg doesn’t necessarily try to soften the character’s detestable side. Don’t mistake Big Significant Things for a celebration of all things awful; this isn’t Reisberg’s version of the loathsome misanthrope as seen in Alex Ross Perry’s unrepentantly aggressive Listen Up Philip. It is, however, even-handed and non-judgmental. As Craig bounces around from Dedeaux Clan Furniture in Gulfport, Mississippi to the Roanoke Star, we see the best and worst of his personality. He’s a charmer, in his affably goofy manner, and even if his obvious metropolitan sensibilities make him stick out like a sore thumb in rural America, he fits right in with the twangy local element (depicted by Reisberg without an ounce of condescension).
At the same time, Craig is a liar and, toward the end, even unfaithful. The film suggests that his behavior is all just the result of mental stress and unmined emotional issues, but smartly, Reisberg goes out of his way to acknowledge Craig’s troubles as being, well, insignificant things. Unlike so many films about white people problems, Big Significant Things has the good sense to point out just how trivial fear of commitment really is. Craig’s foolishness is never validated; he stares into that great Virginian landmark, as he’s looked at so many others across so many states, and draws nothing from its harsh glow. He finds no relief and receives no reward, just the wide-eyed realization of his own failure.
There may be more story here to tell, and at roughly 80 minutes, Big Significant Things feels lacking in its conclusion. But Reisberg’s play on this very typical brand of indie narrative is clever enough to spin wry, if somewhat underused, genre commentary out of cliches. The film’s perspective lends it surprising maturity, though when a first-time effort looks as refined as this, it’s hard not to take it seriously.