August 20, 2012

Gary Farmer in Evergreen

I watched the 2004 movie Evergreen a few months ago. It tells the story of how three generations of women--daughter, mother, and grandmother--cope with poverty in a Washington state town.

Gary Farmer is fourth-billed in the cast. He plays Jim, an Indian who befriends the women. He has several key scenes.

[* spoiler alert *]

1) The mother and daughter meet Jim in the Tulalip Casino. We eventually learn he's the head of the casino's poker operations and an occasional dealer. The women normally take the bus, but he offers them a ride home in his rez car.

Making conversation, Jim says the mother looks "Cherokee or Navajo or Gypsy." This question isn't as odd as it seems because she has high cheekbones and a slightly exotic look. It turns out the grandmother emigrated from Eastern Europe, so they're Slavic or something similar.

But why would he ask her about being Cherokee or Navajo rather than a local Washington tribe? That part doesn't make sense. It sounds like a naive screenwriter's notion of what an Indian is . Name some tribes that everyone's heard of.

Jim is robbed

2) When we see Jim next, he's cozying up to the mother in her kitchen. He's begun courting her.

The suspicious grandmother asks him if he's Mexican or Arab. This launches an argument between the three women. Ashamed of being poor, the daughter leaves, stealing the money from Jim's wallet. Jim leaves too, unwilling to be the cause of a fight.

Usually an Indian in his position would play the wise elder and peacemaker, so it's nice to see his human reaction. He can't stand conflict so he flees.

3) Jim fills his car with gas but then discovers he doesn't have any money. The attendant says he'll have to leave his car until he pays. Jim smiles and shrugs, then goes to hitchhike.

Again, it's a nice human reaction. In this situation you'd expect the Indian to be stoic or angry, but Farmer's character is too mellow for that.

"You're just an Indian"

4) Jim tells the mother that her daughter stole his money. She reacts defensively. "Who are you to accuse us?" she asks. "You're just an Indian who works at a casino."

This is a bit over the top. Consider the facts. The movie was filmed in 2002 or 2003 and presumably takes place then. By then Indian gaming had already taken off.

Evergreen shows a small casino. The Tulalip Tribes now have a mega-resort casino. I don't know when they completed it, but let's say it was after 2002-2003. Let's say they were still operating this modest casino.

Even with this small casino, the Tulalip Tribes would still be a decent employer. The film notes that the only other jobs in town are at a cosmetics factory and toilet-paper factory. The mother works at the former and it isn't glamorous.

Jim has a respectable managerial job at the casino. So why exactly is the mother scorning him? He's better off than she is.

Since she's new to town, she could be ignorant of the job situation. But it doesn't make sense for someone to be sneering at an Indian casino in the early 2000s. Gaming was booming then and the Tulalip Tribes were poised to expand. Jim was on the ground floor of what could've been a great career opportunity.

Again, you get the sense that the screenwriter doesn't quite know the reality of present-day Indians. Jim's character is good, but his status seems like it's 20 or 30 years out of date. Indians were scorned them, but not so much in recent years.


5) Later the mother apologizes to Jim. They kiss and make up. At the end he's joined the family.

It's nice to see the Native guy "get the girl." Especially when he isn't a typical Native hunk like Adam Beach. Jim's essential kindness and goodness win over the skeptical mother.

Overall, Evergreen is too low-key and predictable to be a great movie. But it presents a solid look at a demographic--the poor--seldom seen in movies. And Farmer's role is notably non-stereotypical. Only a few off-key comments keep this role from being great.

Rob's rating of Evergreen: 7.5 of 10.

For more on Gary Farmer, see Farmer's Of Mice and Men Reviewed and Filming Winter in the Blood.

No comments: