‘Fairhaven’: The real world, where a random quote from Tom Brady can crush a guy

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Tom O'Brien, Chris Messina, Rich Sommer. ()
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Established by Robert DeNiro, the Tribeca Film Festival has screened more than 1,200 films from over 80 countries since its first iteration in 2002. The 2012 festival goes from April 18-29. See the schedule of public screenings and purchase tickets here.

Jon (Tom O'Brien) is a thirty-something guy who lives in the fishing town of Fairhaven, Massachusetts.

He was a football star in high school. He now works on a fishing boat, and has dreams of becoming a writer. He's dating Angela (Alexie Gilmore), a sweet woman who meditates, does yoga, holds acting workshops in a gymnasium, and talks about how it would be OK to have an "open relationship," as long as they both are honest.

Jon, a nice guy, isn't sure how he feels about that.

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He also recently saw an interview with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, where Brady said, "There's got to be something more than this."

This one comment has sent Jon into a tailspin. Even Tom Brady, superstar, hero, has doubts, a yearning for something more. Jon can't stop talking about the interview. He tells all his friends. Nobody else seems to be impressed.

He hauls fish, he hangs out with his girlfriend, he visits his mother, he goes to therapy, and he, too, wonders if there is "something more than this".

Fairhaven, directed and written by its star Tom O'Brien, is a poignant personal film about three high-school friends who reunite in their hometown over the course of one wintry weekend. Jon and Sam (Mad Men's Rich Sommer) still live in Fairhaven, while Dave (Chris Messina) has forged out into the larger world, managing a strip club in Vegas.

Dave's father has died, and he comes home for the funeral. The men are in their thirties now, struggling to make sense of their adulthood, and the fact that their youthful dreams haven't exactly panned out.

Sam was married to Kate (the wonderful Sarah Paulson), and they have now split. The couple have a 10-year-old daughter and Sam, a real estate agent, is harried and anxious about being a good single dad, and making his schedule work. Dave has returned from Vegas, and is estranged from his family, but his father's death brings up a lot of stuff in him. Over the course of a couple of days, the friends drink, talk, get high, get laid, and say things to one another that cannot be unsaid. We've seen it all before, right?

But in Tom O'Brien's deft hands, Fairhaven takes that familiar story and makes it into something lovely, insightful and emotional. These three friends have a lot of history. You can't hide from friends like that.

Fairhaven is a fishing town that shares a harbor with the famed whaling port of New Bedford, and Fairhaven starts with gorgeous shots of the fishing harbor at sunrise, with wheeling seagulls and quiet bobbing fishing boats, stark against the spectacular sky.

The cinematographer for Fairhaven is the talented Peter Simonite, who really captures the bleak grandeur of a fishing town in winter, making it look both beautiful and like a dead end. Fairhaven is another character in the film. Having grown up in a town like that myself, the details are perfect: the bars that are so cold that no one takes off their parkas, the Narragansett Beer signs outside of local pubs, lines like, "Ma, I've missed your quahogs."

Fairhaven has a great sense of location. It is rooted in a very specific place. It's a film that feels honest, and doesn't try to do too much. This isn't a story about the characters becoming men, because they're already men. It's about them becoming the kinds of men each of them wants to be, and making peace with the fact that they're no longer young, that it's time to get serious in life, it's time to actually work on their issues and move past the things that hold them back.

Tom O'Brien comes from a New York theatre background, having appeared on Broadway in Lincoln Center's Observe the Sons Of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme and working off Broadway with such companies as Ensemble Studio Theater, Naked Angels, The Zipper Theater, Access Theater and New York Performance Works. He has written and produced plays, and Fairhaven is his first feature. The film shows his talent with script structure and character development, not to mention casting (everyone is superb).

He himself is a beautifully available actor, both thoughtful and anxious, in his dealings with his girlfriend (you can tell he wants to be exclusive, but he's not sure how to say it), and in the wonderful scenes with his therapist. In O'Brien's hands, Jon becomes something that isn't seen all that often in today's cinema: a real, recognizable normal guy. It's a sweet and human performance.

Chris Messina has received a lot of praise as an actor for his turn on Damages, and, along with his New York stage work, continues to work a lot in feature films. He's great as Dave, a surprising character who is more corrupt than the other two. Dave lives in Vegas and rarely comes home, having run away from Fairhaven as quickly as he could.

Messina manages to suggest the deep wells of hurt in this man, the fact that he was once in love with Sam's wife Kate, and that thwarted relationship was one of the defining moments of his life. There is one scene between a tipsy Kate and Dave, at his father's funeral gathering at his mother's house, that is a masterpiece.

And Rich Sommer is terrific as Sam, racing around from showing houses to picking up his daughter, to having awkward conversations on the stoop of his ex-wife's house. He feels like a failure, I suppose, but he doesn't have much time to dwell on it. He's too busy just surviving. Going out and getting drunk with his high school friends is the only free time he's had in months.

He picks up a girl in a bar. In another movie, this encounter would be all about the sex, with his friends hooting from the other room in approval. But in Fairhaven, what starts as a hot makeout scene ends in embarrassment, with Sam saying to her, awkwardly, beautifully, "Perhaps ... sometime next week ... I could pick you up and we could go ... to a movie house ..." She, who obviously really likes him, laughs sweetly. "Movie house?"

In contemporary cinema, where male bonding is represented mainly by picking up hookers in Thailand and living as cackling man-boys in a state of arrested development, it's refreshing to see the friendship treated with respect, honesty and humor.