A Boy Called Sailboat is a quirky, low-key film that draws you into its own particular world - and it just might do you well to visit.
A Boy Called Sailboat
iCandy Productions / Yellow Brick Films
Director / Writer: Cameron Nugent
Music / Score: Leonard Grigoryan and Slava Grigoryan
Stars: J.K. Simmons, Jake Busey, Noel Gugliemi, Elizabeth DeRazzo, Lew Temple, Julian Atocani Sanchez
“One day I found something important. My abuela one day said, ‘You find the most important things when you’re not looking.’ That day, I was not looking – so when I found it, I knew it was important.” These words are the first lines of dialog we hear in director/writer Cameron Nugent’s A Boy Called Sailboat. They’re spoken by the boy who’s the subject – and narrator - of this film. He welcomes us into his world – a bleak, dry landscape colored only by the clay earth and pale blue sky. Still, it’s a child’s world – and that means that anything can happen.
There’s a lot of quiet in this quirky little film. Sailboat’s papa came to that place because it was quiet. Sailboat tells us that he likes it because it’s quiet: and yet, the ultimate magic in this tale is the result of a sound – a sound that we, the viewing audience, never actually get to hear. You see, Sailboat – when he wasn’t really looking, of course – found ‘a little guitar’ and learned how to play it. He brought it on a visit to his dying grandmother – his abuela – who asked him to write a special song for her. Everyone who hears Sailboat play the song are overcome by it – some weeping, some finding prayerful release, some joyfully ecstatic to the point of a religious experience. Eventually, a double-miracle occurs as the song seems to accompany Sailboat’s abuela into the next life and the first soaking rain in a decade bathes the town. Things get better – much better – for Sailboat, his parents, and even the little town from that day forward.
If the above sounds like a fairy tale, that’s what this film feels like. The little New Mexican town itself is as much a character as the actors. The film has several wide shots of the horizontal ground against the horizontal sky. Sailboat’s house is a severely tilted wood-frame structur buttressed-up on one side by ‘a stick’ that everyone is always checking on. A soccer ball (kicked from somewhere off-screen by Sailboat’s friend, Peeti?) is a recurring riff, bouncing low-frame across the landscape.
Nugent has created a world where anything can happen (just don’t be looking – remember?). There’s a sense of a contented monotony about life in the town until the miracle of the ‘little guitar’ begins. Sailboat’s mom makes her meatballs and his dad picks him up from school in a decades-old car with no rear doors – and the days go on. The most colorful imagery in the film are the scenes in the local school and the radio station that plays a key role toward the end of the film. The child actors are very natural and believable, as if they barely realize that they’re actors in a film at all. Elizabeth DeRazzo and Noel Gugliemi convincingly portray a low-key contentment as they watch their world slowly changing due to their child’s growing notoriety. Less naturally portrayed are the other adult characters who seem to live in a world more akin to Napoleon Dynamite (especially Jake Busey as the classroom teacher ...but he is a Busey, after all).
The entire score – which is delightful – is performed on acoustic guitar, using tasteful and clever arrangements of familiar songs such as Row, Row, Row Your Boat, My Bonnie, Banana Boat, House of the Rising Sun and others. The melodies are familiar and intimately performed, lending to the warmth of the film. Interestingly – and wisely – we never actually get to hear Sailboat’s miracle song. The several times he performs the song throughout the movie, we simply hear a high-frequency tone, and then, nothing – although we do get to see the effect it has on those who, in the film’s world, do get to listen.
This quiet, quirky, touching film does have a happy ending involving eventual income from the song (mama gets a better stove, papa gets doors for his car, and the house even gets a better ‘stick’ to hold it up – one that resists wood-ants) but what’s more important is the miracle that came from the actions of a little boy and a ‘little guitar’ and the love of his grandmother.
The film comes full-circle at the end, which could be a spoiler if I understood it – but I don’t. Not exactly. Maybe you will, and we can talk about it – but that’s part of the magic, you see….
Is the story grounded in reality? No. But reality is overrated, anyway. A Boy Called Sailboat is a low-key film that draws you into its own particular world, and it just might do you well to visit.