Cat Lellie in Move Me No Mountain (Photos: 1905 Film Studios)

By Matt Brunson

★★½ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Deborah Richards
STARS Cat Lellie, Nicholas Roylance

There’s no place like homeless in Move Me No Mountain, a sincere yet shaky drama that alternates between true grit and filmmaking glitz.

A movie that’s about coping with grief as much as it’s about the topic of homelessness, this effort from filmmaker Deborah Richards (credited here as director, writer, co-producer, cinematographer, editor, and production designer) stars Cat Lellie as Jenna Anderson, a successful Las Vegas realtor and single mom who loses her young daughter Gigi (Sophia Battinus) in a tragic accident. Still unable to adequately deal with her loss after two years, she decides to walk out of her home and away from her job and her lifestyle in order to begin anew as a homeless person. Wracked by guilt over the loss of her daughter (admittedly, the flashback doesn’t reveal a death caused by a split second of distractedness but, as filmed, as a lengthy bout of recklessness that borders on the criminal), Jenna feels she deserves nothing good out of life, but because she can’t bring herself to commit suicide, she decides that being without any semblance of security or comfort is the next best thing.

Carrying few possessions, she embarks on her outdoors odyssey, quickly learning that perhaps the only thing as bad as hunger is the cold. She shares a fire with a homeless vet: The Captain (Scott Ables), an eccentric coot who warns her not to trust anyone and then proves his own point. She also meets Nick (Nicholas Roylance), a young guy who’s eager for any opportunity that will get him off the streets. And then there’s the tag team of Ruth (Amanda Forstrom), a combative drug addict, and Lizbeth (Layla Campbell), a little girl who’s carted around by Ruth but gets treated like dirt by her.

Cat Lellie in Move Me No Mountain

Move Me No Mountain works best when it attempts to be raw and real. Nick’s plight hits hard because, unlike the privileged Jenna who chose to be homeless, he ended up on the streets after a California wildfire destroyed his home (as well as those of hundreds of other people). Jenna’s first attempt at dumpster diving marks a turning point (as well as nearly getting her nabbed by the police), and her vicious beating at the hands of a psychotic homeless man best reveals the hair-trigger horrors of this life.

Other parts of the movie feel far more artificial. The introduction of the sad-sack duo of Ruth and Lizbeth will tip off any half-alert viewer to the schematic nature of this development — in other words, it’s easy to see how the film will end from miles away (at least 225 miles, or roughly the distance from Las Vegas to Los Angeles). And the picture’s visual compositions are often pretty to a fault — there’s one particular scene where one of the tunnel floors, which theoretically should be covered in trash, urine, and rat feces, looks clean enough to function as a serving surface for wobbly Jell-O. Even a sequence that had the potential to unnerve — a filthy Jenna takes a dive in the swimming pool of former clients — ends with a bada-boom punchline.

Lellie is fine in the central role, and if her character doesn’t change much over the course of the film (there’s a jump of 15 months, and Jenna hasn’t grown more bitter, crazed, or paranoidal in the interim?), that’s more a reflection of the scripting than the acting. Roylance is excellent as the warmhearted Nick — his impressive ability to convey emotional neediness in a low-key manner reminded me of Ellar Coltrane in Boyhood — while Forstrom cuts a pathetic figure as the combo Jesus freak / speed freak.

(Move Me No Mountain is presently streaming on Amazon Prime and Tubi.)

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