Littlerock
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We often see movies about Americans abroad, experiencing the strange customs and traditions of a foreign country. But in director Mike Ott’s award-winning indie drama, Littlerock, the tables are turned as two foreign tourists find themselves stuck in small-town America.

When their rental car breaks down outside the small town of Littlerock, California, Japanese tourists Atsuko (Atsuko Okatsuka) and Rintaro Sakamoto (Rintaro Sawamoto) end up stranded in a strange place. Rintaro speaks just a little bit of English—and his sister speaks almost none at all—but they’re almost immediately befriended by a group of local kids who are throwing a noisy party at a nearby room in their motel.

Despite the obvious language barrier, Atsuko feels right at home in Littlerock. She enjoys spending time with flighty aspiring model / actor Cory (Cory Zacharia), who’s fallen head-over-heels for her—and she’s instantly attracted to Cory’s friend, Jordan (Brett L. Tinnes). They’re unlike any of her friends back in Japan—so when their rental car is up and running again, Atsuko decides to stay behind as Rintaro continues on to San Francisco.

  
 
This unexpected little indie is just as slow and simple as life in any small American town. On the surface, not much happens. The young characters drink beer and ride bikes and wander around sleepy local landmarks. But every mundane little detail is an important one for Atsuko, who soaks up the whole strange experience—whether she’s eating TV dinners with Cory and his dad or learning to make burritos with help from Spanish-speaking Francisco (Roberto “Sanz” Sanchez).

It may be difficult to understand why Atsuko would want to stick around in this quiet little town—especially when she can’t understand a word that anyone’s saying—but it’s not hard to see why she’d fall in love with her new friends. Cory is a lovable goofball who’s totally open and eager to please. And although Zacharia’s acting is a bit shaky, his character’s earnestness and naïveté shine through. Jordan, meanwhile, is cooler and less awkward than Cory—though he’s just as attentive (and even more overt in expressing his feelings).

Atsuko, too, is a wonderful character. Though you’ll often feel the frustration that the language barrier brings, Okatsuka gives such a remarkable performance that you’ll be able to understand what she’s thinking and feeling through her facial expressions and inflection alone.

Since they can’t understand each other, the characters are free to imagine any kind of relationship. They can assume that the words the other speaks are exactly the words they want to hear. Cory can tell people that Atsuko is “kind of his girlfriend.” And Atsuko can assume that she and Jordan both want the same things from their relationship. But, of course, not all of their assumptions are correct.

In the end, Littlerock is a quiet, character-driven story about the people who touch our lives in unexpected ways—told mostly through simple actions and fleeting expressions. It requires some patience (and a little bit of concentration), but this intriguingly beautiful drama is worth the effort.

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