Review: ‘Life and Nothing More’ Places Family in the Center

Review: ‘Life and Nothing More’ Places Family in the Center


“Life and Nothing More” begins on a bus ride to court and ends at a prison, but not for the reasons viewers — or, more to the point, the legal system — might intuit. The film touches on a lot of hot-button matters, including the 2016 election; racial profiling; and the difficulties of being a single parent and of earning a living wage. But it keeps the issues largely in the background. The goal, as the title suggests, is simply to present lives as they’re lived from moment to moment.

Long stretches of the movie, from the Spanish-born writer-director Antonio Méndez Esparza, making his second feature, could easily be mistaken for a documentary, an impression that Méndez Esparza deepens though his visual style. Whether the setting is a classroom, a parking lot or a restaurant, he often keeps his camera at a slight distance from his (mostly nonprofessional) actors, maintaining a vantage point that we’ve come to associate with fly-on-the-wall filmmaking.

But this is a drama — specifically, a mother-son story. The film opens with the teenage Andrew (Andrew Bleechington) and his mother, Regina (Regina Williams), on their way to court. Andrew, who is on probation after breaking into cars, has been skipping mandated counseling appointments, and it’s not the first time he’s upset Regina.

She’s raising him, along with his much younger sister, on her own in Northern Florida, where she works as a waitress. (The film’s sense of place is especially strong.) Andrew’s father is in prison and plays a minimal role in his life. (“Sure,” Andrew says disinterestedly when a counselor asks if he would like to talk to his father more often; it’s tough for anyone to get Andrew to break his defensive silence.) Regina cautiously begins a romance with Robert (Robert Williams), who might fill that absence, though he’s hardly perfect, and Andrew rebels at the prospect.

Describing the trajectory of “Life and Nothing More” makes it sound like a civics lesson, and in some scenes — we see Andrew learning about the Constitution and lawmaking in school — Méndez Esparza even cultivates that impression, overplaying his hand.

But the bulk of the movie is more like the reverse: a slow accumulation of closely observed moments — Regina and Robert’s flirting during a pool game; Regina working while election returns play on a TV behind her; Andrew attending an anger management session — that add up to something much more nuanced, a portrait of lives that can’t be reduced to statistics.



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