Old Joy

Critics Consensus

A serene, melancholy beauty permeates this meditative portrait of deep friendship and faded glory.



Total Count: 88


Audience Score

User Ratings: 5,550
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Movie Info

"Old Joy" is the story of two old friends, Kurt and Mark, who reunite for a weekend camping trip in the Cascade mountain range east of Portland, Oregon. It is a minimalist story of friendship, loss and alienation in the Bush era. For Mark, the weekend outing offers a respite from the pressure of his imminent fatherhood; for Kurt, it is part of a long series of carefree adventures. As the hours progress and the landscape evolves, the twin seekers move through a range of subtle emotions, enacting a pilgrimage of mutual confusion, sudden insight, and recurring intimations of spiritual battle. When they arrive at their final destination, a hot spring in an old growth forest, they must either confront the divergent paths they have taken or somehow transcend their growing tensions in an act of forgiveness and mourning.

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Critic Reviews for Old Joy

All Critics (88) | Top Critics (34)

  • Old Joy may be built around a road trip, but it's also a movie about two roads -- and two souls -- diverging.

    Mar 15, 2007 | Rating: B
  • You may find yourself asking whether anything's going to happen. But for those who can tolerate a slow-brewing movie, [director] Reichardt's work provides sufficient rewards.

    Mar 9, 2007 | Rating: B
  • Subdued, artistic, with beautifully nuanced performances that are as true as they are often elusive of commercial triumph.

    Mar 9, 2007 | Rating: 3/4
  • You would be perfectly at liberty to find it boring and empty, but also to understand the tiny resonances that have made it one of the best reviewed films of 2006 in America. Somehow it does strike home.

    Jan 26, 2007 | Rating: 3/5
  • A spare and satisfying experience.

    Jan 26, 2007 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…

    Steve Rose

    Top Critic
  • Notable for its visual beauty, its melancholic Yo La Tengo score and its subtle performances, it's an impressively understated and sensitively observed work.

    Jan 26, 2007 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

    Tom Dawson

    Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Old Joy

  • Jul 03, 2013
    When Kelly Reichardt hits it, she really hits it with great personal tales and nuanced performances. When she doesn't, you get nuanced boredom. Like Meek's Cutoff, this one falls into the latter category.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Jul 06, 2011
    This film was my first foray into the work of the well-respected Kelly Reichardt. If this film is any indication, I need to be ready for some serious introspection if I choose to go further. Although this film is very minimalistic, it tackles some pretty serious issues regarding the changing nature of friendships and the alienation that comes with growing old. It is a road picture in which the trip makes for a pretty interesting metaphor. No matter how you think a trip is going to turn out, there will always be some bumps in the road that you did not foresee. While some may be turned off by its languid pace, it is refreshingly and awkwardly honest. There are long stretches of silence between these characters and when they do converse, it is rather insipid dialogue. To capitalize on the emotional division between these two characters, Reichardt manages to keep these men in the same frame, but they couldn't seem any further apart. While a hearty dose of melodrama always spices up a good story, sometimes life isn't that way. In fact, silence far outweighs all of the words spoken in the world and it is interesting to see someone capture these moments in such a raw way. Am I eagerly awaiting this film's release on Blu-Ray? Of course not. But it is an honest look at friendship and something that isn't too often captured on film.
    Reid V Super Reviewer
  • May 07, 2010
    Even more minimalistic than Reichardt's follow-up, Wendy & Lucy. Still, it was a satisfying experience.
    Robert F Super Reviewer
  • Jul 10, 2007
    "<i>Sorrow is nothing but worn out joy.</i>" <i>Old Joy</i> is the sort of film that I like more as time goes by. At first viewing it seems sluggishly paced, has very little dialogue and really doesn't have much going on. So as you can see, there really isn't any direction to go but up. This is the sort of film that will try the patience of its audience. If you're the kind of person whose attention spam is a bit limited and who tends to roll their eyes at the mention of "New Age" thinking, you'll probably consider this film a sort of torture. <a href="http://s172.photobucket.com/albums/w25/EarthlyAlien/?action=view¤t=staffpick_oldjoy_320x240.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="http://i172.photobucket.com/albums/w25/EarthlyAlien/staffpick_oldjoy_320x240.jpg" border="0" alt="Photobucket"></a> But if you can get past all of that, and I'm guessing for a lot of people that's going to be quite a slog, you'll find quite a beautiful, thoughtful film. That slow pace and absence of dialogue makes for an environment where the viewer is almost forced to pay closer attention. Every gesture, expression or movement by the actors becomes magnified, begging us to heavily analyse every little thing, perhaps to excess. It's a film where you can actually feel a vibe between the characters, a wordless energy everyone can feel but no one really wants to talk about. The film opens with Mark (Daniel London) sitting in his garden attempting to meditate, badly. Eventually he is interrupted by the phone and a request from an old friend to go on a road trip to a hot spring. Mark wrestles briefly with his guilt over wanting to go, since that means leaving his very pregnant wife behind for the weekend. She doesn't harass him about it but he still defensively seeks her permission before going. Clearly Mark isn't quite settled into married life yet. When we meet Kurt (Will Oldham), it's almost impossible not to cringe. His appearance shrieks pitiful hippie. Marks seems to agree, looking more than a little appalled when Kurt starts to talk about how he is "so much more enlightened now" that he's back from one of his trips. You can almost see the gears cranking in Mark's head as he contemplates a good excuse to back out of this trip. It comes as a surprise to no one that their first stop is to buy some pot. The rest of the film is a languid road trip through the Oregon woods to the spring. Kurt carries things along with his pot-fuelled theories and stories, giving the audience plenty to laugh at and making Mark steadily more uncomfortable. Obviously these two were once much closer but now Mark is trying to pull away as Kurt tries to reclaim that closeness. It all seems very familiar, like the sort of reconnection with an old friend that we've been through. That familiarity makes you feel extremely close to both men. I would of course be remiss in not mentioning director Kelly Reichardt's charming dog Lucy, who accompanies the two on their trip. What makes <i>Old Joy</i> stand out is the way it creates a mood, building an energy between the two men that invites our queries. Is Kurt attracted to Mark? Does Mark feel like he made a mistake in getting married? Are these guys for real or are they just posers who have no real ideas, just echoes of other people's? There's really no answer to any of this, just an open invitation to watch and contemplate, to feel what is going on without any concrete sense of the history behind it. When the film comes to an end, nothing is really answered. These guys are on a journey, they just don't seem to know what for. Certainly they are both looking for more than a warm beer, hot bath and a naked hippie. Neither one is comfortable enough with themselves to be able to define their lives and find a direction. Like their journey to the spring (in which they get lost), they don't seem to know where they are going. Guys like this make a real statement about their politics with their appearance and behavior. They champion peace and understanding for the world but for themselves don't know how to find either one. Reichardt uses clean and simple cinematography to illustrate the starkness of Mark and Kurt's faded friendship. 90% of the film is shot in the wild, and it struck me as Herzog-esque in more than one occasion. A teacher by day, Reichardt doesn't rely on art to pay the bills, which enables her to create films the way she wants. Word is she spent roughly $77,500 producing and distributing the film. Despite its modest funding, <i>Old Joy</i> was a huge success at Sundance and several other film festivals. The soundtrack features original work by the band Yo La Tengo, and their lilting instrumental score provides a calming backdrop to this otherwise tension-filled drama. Intriguingly, from what I've read and heard from the festivals this showed at, it was clear that a lot of people dismissed <i>Old Joy</i> rather easily as boring and pointless. I personally found it perceptive and surprisingly moving. It can go both ways, really. It's that kind of film. The point is Reichardt has done an amazing job (with so little) of getting a lot across with this film in a very subtle manner. Perhaps for a lot of people it was too subtle but I find it impossible not to be impressed by the effort. Now I can't wait to watch <i>Wendy and Lucy</i>.
    Pedro P Super Reviewer

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