Blow the Man Down
In the small Maine village of Easter Cove, the death of Mary Margaret Connolly (Linda Shary) has shaken the community. While her eldest Priscilla (Taisa Farmiga lookalike Sophie Lowe) is content continuing to run the family fish market, the more rebellious Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor, "White Girl") sees an opportunity to skip town. But their mother’s history, intertwined with that of seniors Susie Gallagher (June Squibb), Doreen Burke (Marceline Hugot) , Gail Maguire (Annette O'Toole) and especially Enid Nora Devlin (Margo Martindale), will fatally intersect when Mary Beth parties with one of Enid’s employees in “Blow the Man Down.”
Laura's Review: B-
There’s an awful lot to like in writer/director Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy’s feature debut. Its matriarchal society, where a group of three stands up to its shadiest, suggests New England’s history with witchcraft while its plot of how a death in a fishing community calls up old history while impacting its younger generation recalls “Manchester by the Sea.” The way Mary Margaret’s old waders hold this little town’s history is an ingenious device and Harpswell, Maine, standing in for the fictional Easter Cove, couldn’t be more steeped in Downeast. But the film’s pacing becomes problematic as the plot eventually twists itself into too many knots and those Maine accents are actually broad Bostonian ones, holdovers from Savage Cole’s Funny or Die Palardy Sisters shorts like 'Eastah Dinnah in Boston.' Still, “Blow the Man Down” is regional filmmaking if not quite at its finest, still plenty flavorful.
The film opens auspiciously with a musical number, four old fishermen posed around piers as they sing the titular shanty. After we see Enid watching a man chase a woman up a snowy hill from the upper window of what we come to learn is her Oceanside Bed and Breakfast, we find ourselves hovering over the open casket of Mary Margaret as Mary Beth passes a flask to her more sober sister. Regaled afterwards with Susie, Doreen and Gail’s tales of how their mother ‘pulled through for them,’ Mary Beth is shocked to also learn that the family home is no longer theirs. It is this news that sends her out to a local bar where she will find herself in the company of Gorski (Ebon Moss-Bachrach, HBO's 'Girls'), the same man Enid was watching earlier. After drunkenly running into a plywood lobstahman, Mary Beth flees the scene to Gorski’s room down by the piers. Spooked, she takes drastic action which will find mom’s old waders and Priscilla’s skills with a fillet knife called into service.
Turns out Easter Cove has plenty to keep freshly minted Officer Justin Brennan (Will Brittain, “Everybody Wants Some!!”) busy as a parallel pair of young women, the disappeared Dee (Meredith Holzman) and her grieving partner Lexie (Gayle Rankin, “Her Smell,” TV’s ‘GLOW’), figure into its crime wave. If only his superior Officer Coletti (Skipp Sudduth) weren’t so enamored of Oceanside Bed and Breakfast’s *real* business.
Squibb, Hugot and O’Toole make a delightful trio, a combined force whether simply walking down the street or barging into the local hairdresser’s for a confrontation. That would be with Martindale, whose character flinches every time she hears the mention of ‘three old women.’ Also strong is Brittain as the young officer so close to figuring out just what’s going on.
The film’s production makes hay with its location, cinematographer Todd Banhazl’s spare flourishes, like that overhead casket shot, well placed. Music by "It Comes at Night's" Jordan Dykstra and Brian McOmber would have been more effective at a quieter level in the mix.
Robin's Review: C+
Easter Cove is a bustling little fishing village on the rocky coast of Maine. We meet the denizens of the town at a very somber moment – the funeral of one of the town’s beloved matriarchs, Mary Margaret Connolly. Left behind are her two daughters, Priscilla (Sophie Lowe) and Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor), and a mound of debt in “Blow the Man Down.”
I thought, at the beginning of this debut by writing-directing team of Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy), that they had me with a group of manly fishermen singing, a cappella, the titular shanty song. The sound of men singing in harmony has been with me since I was a kid and my dad played his Mitch Miller albums and I have enjoyed it ever since – think John Ford westerns, Crosby, Stills and Nash and The Association.
The story, though, while it starts off intriguingly enough, tries too hard and throws too many subplots and intrigues into the mix. One major problem I have with “Blow the Man Down” is the utter failure to even try to capture that wonderfully distinct Down East twang of Maine – one very familiar to me growing up. Instead, the actors give the equivalent of a Hyundai “Smaht Pahk” commercial that would have suited South Boston more than Maine.
Things start out pretty straightforwardly as the sisters, very different personalities each handle the loss of their mom in their own way. Priscilla is the responsible one, taking over their mother’s fish shop and trying to figure out how to get out of debt. The younger Mary Beth, though, is the rebel and wants to shake off the dust of this one horse (or is that fishing boat?) town. This rebellious streak will soon lead to a heinous crime.
How the sisters deal with their unexpected and gruesome circumstance could have been enough. But, the writing team decided that this plotline would not be enough and dumped a kitchen sink-load of other threads, too, like the town’s brothel and the death of one of the ladies of the night. Margot Martindale, as the ostensible madam of the establishment, is quite amusing and gives a more nuanced performance than the film deserves. The triumvirate of the other matriarchs – June Squibb, Marceline Hugot and Annette O’Toole – adds an intriguingly unspoken complexity to the story.
The tyro filmmakers have talent. That is obvious. But they need to curb their enthusiasm to put everything they have into the project. Here, a bit less might be more.
This movie is available to stream on Amazon Prime.