Nosey Parker is the final film in John O'Brien's "Tunbridge Triology," a series of "anthropological comedies" shot in his small Vermont town. The first was 1992's Vermont Is For Lovers, and the second, A Man with a Plan, about a farmer's run for Congress, caused a small media sensation in the late '90s. Each film is a valentine of sorts to the small-town rural living that ironically most of us experience only through artificially manufactured movies. (This year's dreadful Welcome to Mooseport comes to mind.) But O'Brien doesn't cast Hollywood A-listers slumming as quirky villagers; he films his actual neighbors interacting with professional actors in a loose hybrid of documentary and improvisation that tell deceptively simple stories.
Here there's a slim narrative involving the Newmans -- Richard (Richard Snee), a middle-aged psychiatrist, and his much younger, and neglected, wife Natalie (Natalie Picoe) -- yuppies who flee the big city for the pastoral charms of Vermont. The first culture clash occurs when the town's tax assessors, led by 72-year-old dairy farmer George (George Lyford, playing himself), come to inspect the couple's absurd designer home -- where, amongst other decorating peculiarities, Natalie has hung a rusted farm implement on the wall. Natalie ends up hiring George as her handyman, and in time the unlikely pair develops a friendship.
George is the kind of genuine old-timer who wears a gimme cap from a feed company without irony, qualifies his comments with "pert near," and has a real gift with a corny joke. Stereotypes about tight-lipped New Englanders notwithstanding, George is genuinely warm, and he offers his friendship without guile to Natalie, who initially seems a bit of an insensitive ninny. It's a testament to the skill of actress Picoe and the easy organic development of O'Brien's story that her character softens and even grows affecting.
One aspect of Nosey Parker that is never in doubt is the picture-postcard-perfect scenery of rural Vermont in autumn, the foliage ablaze with color and each iconic landmark -- covered bridge, white church steeple and weathered barn -- is framed against a crystal-clear blue sky. O'Brien shot on film, not digital video, and it's worth the cost. The sparkling clarity and depth of these images would be muted on video. Very occasionally, the film incorporates some archival footage, but to great effect.
There's an undercurrent of sadness too in Nosey Parker -- George's health is failing, and his inevitable death will mean not just the loss of the town's lively spirit, but also the cessation of a particular way of life. George's young grandson talks fancifully about staying in Vermont and living on the farm, but the Newmans are the real harbingers of the area's future -- people who view the country as a backdrop to their urbane lives and not as a life force in itself.