With his third movie, Campbell Scott has found a gentle, knowing rhythm as a director. His pitch-perfect adaptation of Joan Ackerman's play centers on the unusual Groden family--Arlene (Joan Allen), Charley (Sam Elliott), and their precocious daughter Bo (Valentina de Angelis)--who literally live off the map: no phone, no TV, no significant source of income. It takes the hapless IRS auditor (Jim True-Frost) more than two days of circular driving in the New Mexico desert before he finds their isolated home.
Very little dramatic action takes place in "Off The Map." Sam Elliot cries at the dinner table. Clinically depressed, he never suffers a showy cinematic breakdown. Restless young Bo seems on the verge of a rebellion which never happens, because she loves her junk collecting mother, her monosyllabic father, and her father's slow-witted friend Jack (J.D. Hawkins) who takes her fishing. She even loves the tax guy. The tax guy, a wonderful character who defies expectations, discovers Arlene naked in the garden and professes his passionate love. Arlene thanks him.
All of the performance in "Off the Map" are wonderful, from Joan Allen (who is also receiving acclaim for her lead performance in "The Upside of Anger") to Valentina de Angelis, who pulls off a remarkable feat in her onscreen debut, conveying the real complexity of a child, smart-alecky and smart, playful but also serious. The quietly eccentric characters in "Off The Map" come off as genuine, fascinating, and extremely likeable people. Their sad, happy lives are a pleasure to watch unfold.