Fitting into a tradition that includes Beautiful Girls, The Big Chill, and Return of the Seacaucus Seven, first-time director Tom O’Brien’s Fairhaven takes a look at friendship and the trials and tribulations of impending middle age. However, where those films attempted to be sweeping generational statements, Fairhaven has a much more intimate feel.
The director also stars as Jon, a onetime athlete who finds himself back in his hometown of Fairhaven, MA. He’s searching for meaning, love, and some idea of what to do with his life. He reconnects with his old pal Sam (Rich Sommer), a divorced father of a young daughter who loves small-town life, but still harbors deep feelings for his ex. Together they hang out with their hard-drinking, irresponsible friend Dave (Chris Messina), who has returned home for his father’s funeral after seemingly roaming the country since high school. The old friends spend a weekend remembering their glory days, fessing up about their current problems, and looking for a path to a better future.
There’s a low-key simplicity to everything in Fairhaven that works in its favor; the script doesn’t break new ground, but the circle of friends it depicts feel like people you know. Their problems might be stereotypical, but the characters aren’t thanks to the talented cast. O’Brien, who looks like he could play Peter Krause’s brother, has a solid everyman quality about him that keeps his existential despair grounded in reality. Sommer, best known as the often unctuous Harry Crane on Mad Men, makes Sam a gentle sweetheart. His friends push him to go out on a date, and his nervousness about being around a woman other than his ex-wife has a befuddled authenticity that’s endearing.
Chris Messina has the showiest role of the bunch, the bad boy who ruffles feathers, overindulges in drugs, alcohol, and women, and tells it like it is, but deep down might be the most sensitive of the group. The talented actor, who has shown both dramatic and comedic chops, gets to exercise them both as Dave. The script gives the character enough of a genuinely prickly personality that at all times it feels as if his old buddies might really be pushed to the brink by Dave’s often combative and self-destructive behavior.
Fairhaven has the makings of a quality television show, and that’s not a complaint. These characters feel lived in, and even if there doesn’t seem to be much at stake dramatically, their knowing interplay gives the film a believable slice-of-life flavor that could easily be sustained over the course of several episodes. Fairhaven leaves you wanting more, in the best sense of the phrase. leave a comment --Perry Seibert