Stories of transformation are usually stunning and prescriptive. Scrooge makes a 180 degree turn after the ghosts visit. Self-help gurus prescribe a dozen DVDs to watch before you qualify as enlightened.
Real transformations, however, are recognized only in retrospect, and the steps you climbed to work on yourself are scantily recovered from dreams, casual comments by friends, and other imperfect records. One never begins a transformation with “Start here.”
Joan’s transformation in A Year’s Worth is neither spectacular nor inspiring. It is simply believable. As another stand-up comic tells her, he likes comedy because you get to tell the truth. So, also, the camera lovingly lingers on Joan’s boozy solo dance after a break-up, inviting us to watch the unflattering beginning of a pilgrimage from delusion to how things are, from sloppy half-truths to the real article. In this way, Joan moves through the precisely choreographed first steps required to wriggle from an old skin. Played by Sara Roan, a co-writer of this small-scaled production shown today at Richmond’s Byrd Theatre, Joan is an aspiring young writer employed as a dog-walker. In this, and in another film about dog-walking, Thomas Vincent’s La Nouvelle Vie de Paul Sneijder, featured in the French Film Festival at the Byrd in March, the inner work to be done by the main character is portrayed, as in all spiritual pilgrimages, by a walk.
But Joan’s pilgrimage is not solemn. She wanders through the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, and many stores and markets familiar to Richmonders, karaoke parties, and trips to James River Park and Virginia Beach. Roan, her husband and co-writer, John Randal Reaves, and filmmaker Eric Gilkey have made the city her friendly guide, who shows that a turn of only a few degrees is enough to change your perspective and make it possible to shake off clinging reminders of the old life.
Made from humble local materials, produced with the help of friends, and paid for by the filmmakers, this impressive film captures the life of some of today’s young people, who are often underemployed in several low-paying jobs, burdened by student loans, seeking outlets in alcoholic gatherings, uncertain of where they are going, but skeptical of the advice coming from parents and other real “adults,” as Joan calls them. As a member of the sententious generation whose advice is suspect, I felt my own frame of reference shift a few degrees closer to Joan’s world. With minimal verbiage and stage direction, this story advances naturally and concisely, and the worthiness of this Year’s Worth lies, for me, in the encouraging and sensible world revealed.
References: https://ayearsworthmovie.tumblr.com/ . See also Mary Lee Clark’s review in the Richmond Times Dispatch of 5/31/2017 http://www.pressreader.com/usa/richmond-times-dispatch/20170531/