SMALL, BEAUTIFULLY MOVING PARTS
In “Small, Beautifully Moving Parts,” a bland, insistently amiable comedy that doubles as road movie, Anna Margaret Hollyman has to spend most of her scenes looking cutely vexed. You’d look vexed, too, if you had to act a scene involving a fantasy Skype conversation with the ultrasound image of your unborn child or another where you discuss your relationship with your mother with a rental-car GPS. It’s a tribute to how appealing Hollyman is — if Renée Zellweger were still Renée Zellweger, she’d be Hollyman — that she hardly ever gets annoying, which is more than can be said for the movie she stars in.
Hollyman plays a woman in her late 20s/early 30s, Sarah Sparks. With a surname like that, how could Sarah not be a “freelance technologist”? “I’ve always had a soft spot for — machinery,” she says, pausing for emphasis before the last word comes out. Sarah’s great at tinkering with everything from laptops to portable radios to toilet-training dolls. Now six months pregnant, she feels a need to tinker with family dynamics, too.
Since her sister won’t come to New York for a baby shower, Sarah goes to Los Angeles to have it – where, of course, she knows none of the guests. If this were a plot device in a sitcom, no savvy viewer would stick around past the first commercial. But since “Small, Beautifully Moving Parts” played at South by Southwest in 2011, lazy storytelling expects a pass as indie authenticity.
Getting Sarah to LA serves three purposes. It frees her up to be a solo operator, since her partner, Leon (Andre Holland), quite sensibly stays in New York. It gives her sister a chance to tell her that their mother (Mary Beth Peil) has moved “off the grid.” And since she’s on the West Coast somewhere, this makes it plausible (sort of) that Sarah would set off in search of her.
So off she goes, via Santa Barbara (where she sees her father), Las Vegas (where she gets a massage and has her aura interpreted by Leon’s oddball sister), and the Grand Canyon (where she went with her family as a kid). Earlier in the movie, Sarah diagnoses a computer-firewall issue for her father. Her mother presents a different kind of firewall problem. Can Sarah fix it? That would be a task beyond the powers of Steve Jobs – though maybe not Job. Small, beautifully moving parts require tools of a certain kind, while small, beautifully moving hearts require quite another.