Kelly Reichardt's Old Joy (2006) couldn't have been much longer than its 76-minute running time, because the film is about things that can't be spoken. The story of a camping trip taken by former close friends Kurt (Will Oldham) and Mark (Daniel London), Old Joy resonates with loss, the changes brought by maturity, and the pain of choices not made.
Mark is married and about to be a father. Kurt's life is less specifically detailed, though there are references to trips to hot springs, Big Sur, and nights spent by bonfires on the beach. The idea of an unfulfilled quest emerges from Oldham's nervous performance. The pressures on Mark are expressed by the liberal talk radio excerpts Reichardt inserts, in which callers rage about Democratic malaise and the high cost of living. In the stilted conversations that interrupt meditative silences (Yo La Tengo contributes an austere and moving score), Mark refers to a "community garden" and teaching woodworking to kids. We never find out what his job is, but Mark's activist spirit is clearly struggling for purchase.
While they're sitting in front of a campfire, Kurt expresses a desire for the return of his and Mark's former friendship. The moment is awkward and passes quickly; we never what set the two men on different paths, but their conversation is dotted with mentions of former friends and a now-defunct record store that has given way to a smoothie joint.
I haven't done it justice, but Old Joy is a beautifully specific film for everyone who wonders what happened to all their friends from 10 years ago. I hope Reichardt's next project arrives quickly.