The anthology film can be a tricky scale to balance and yet, that’s exactly what Maine-based filmmakers Jeff Griecci and Ian Carlsen have done with their latest feature.
Nice People is a proud and loud tribute to the Portland of old that the filmmakers — no strangers when it comes to collaboration — so clearly adore. Written by Carlsen and directed by Griecci, the film featuring five stories of the regional working class that twist and turn around themselves, and occasionally each other. SPACE screens the film three times this week.
The micro-narratives that shape the film alternate between absurd comedy and harsh realism. “Val & Teddy,” starring Shannon Campbell and Brent Askari, opens on an amicable reunion between a former couple that takes us to some unexpectedly salacious places. In “Shane,” an older man (William Paul Steele) hits a stranger’s cat with his car and runs across town to inform its owner(s). “Lesedi” concerns its titular character’s (LaLa Drew) struggle searching for housing and understanding as a Black woman in a predominantly white community, and “Jean” follows a traveling Frenchman’s (Titi De Baccarat) chance meeting with a mother and daughter (Grace Bauer and Maiya Koloski) on the backroads.
The final installment, “Zed and Larry,” is considerably the longest of them all. It’s also quite possibly the best. It’s the chilly tale of a twenty-something fishmonger (Tadin Brego) whose sole work friend and drinking buddy dies in a tragic accident on the job, which forces him to (rather sloppily) confront the nature of their relationship. All-in-all it’s a fine summation of the filmmakers’ penchant for surreal humor with a purpose, a clever interrogation of toxic masculinity, and features an exceptional performance from Michael Thomas Toth (as Larry).
Each story ends on a sort of punchline, glued together by longtime local musician Jimmy Dority’s pleasantly loungey score, and the majority of them are pretty satisfying. The tone that Griecci and Carlsen achieve is a thing of beauty, and the portrait that they’ve painted of Portland is nestled comfortably somewhere between admiration and considerable apprehension. They’re nevertheless coming from a place of deep, complicated love. What better way to express this than through a multi-faceted, anthological cinematic tribute?