Cinematic Maine’s “Tumbledown” captures Dirigo spirit


“When Harry Met Sally” is a classic romantic comedy that has you laughing from the opening scene. From the arch of Washington Square Park to Central Park in fall it bursts with love for Manhattan. “Tumbledown” set in Farmington, Maine has romance and comedy, but unfolding in Maine’s messy mud season it goes deeper, darker and grittier.

Be prepared to feel. Be prepared to listen. And be prepared to crack out your Gazetteer to explore the western hills of Maine. But don’t go looking for the Fly Me to the Spoon Diner in Franklin County, it was shot in Shirley, MA. All but a few establishing shots of Webb Lake with the majestic Tumbledown Mountain as backdrop were filmed in Massachusetts. And yet this film is deeply rooted in Maine, pulsating with a Pine Tree State of mind.

Before the film debuted in Maine and across the nation last weekend, the press around “Tumbledown,” centered on the fact that this flick wasn’t shot here. After seeing the movie, you have to respect Portland filmmakers Desi Van Til and Sean Mewshaw’s verve to pull this off so skillfully in Massachusetts. And their tenacity to try to improve Maine’s ineffectual tax film credits.

Nine years later, the touching, quietly humorous film is out of the can. Though the cast and crew holed up on location in The Commonwealth to film, Maine’s Dirigo spirit (in both the plot line and production of the film) is central to “Tumbledown.”

Depictions of the “smokey” widow Hannah Miles (played by Rebecca Hall) raging around in a Ford pickup truck and commandeering a ride on an ATV from a local teen in a crucial reversal-of-the-heart moment, is vintage Maine. Similarly, to achieve production, the husband and wife team found ways to surmount all obstacles.

The storyline is both about loss and building and protecting the shrine of memory. But “Tumbledown” is not maudlin. In a refreshing turn, flashbacks are auditory. When Hannah talks about her deceased folk hero husband, we hear his plaintive music (Nick Drake meets Ray LaMontagne), not a blurry visual re-enactment.

The protagonist, clad in pressed L.L. Bean flannels and Hunter boots, defends herself from herself as she protects her husband’s memory in a cozy lodge with a crackling fire. It’s a kind of fortress, both a repository for his working memorabilia and a sanctuary for her memories and feelings. The town itself is part of the supporting cast that nurtures her. The outsider played by Jason Sudeikas chips away at her icy shell in his quest to write his own biography of the suffering artist just as spring comes into focus.

Dialogue sparkles. For instance “See you in Vacationland.”  “I will bring my swim trunks,” had the crowd at the Portland Museum of Art chuckling. “Tumbledown” is available on iTunes right now, but seeing it on the big screen with fellow Mainers who laughed at the right parts and clapped and cheered at the end makes “Tumbledown” a uniquely Maine experience. This is not Hollywood’s Maine. It’s as independent as the state it salutes.

“Tumbledown” screens at Frontier in Brunswick and the Portland Museum of Art this weekend.

Kathleen Pierce

About Kathleen Pierce

A lifelong journalist with a deep curiosity for what's next. Interested in food, culture, trends and the thrill of a good scoop. BDN features reporter based in Portland since 2013.