MERIS CANFIELD (Katie O'Grady, also co-producing) is a freak. We learn this about her in the opening scene of Portland director James Westby's Rid of Me, when we see her stalk another woman, Briann (Storm Large), through a grocery store, where things quickly get bloody—menstrual bloody. But before the film gets too far ahead of itself, it pulls us back to the beginning, where Meris is the hopeful, smitten wife of Mitch (John Keyser), and the couple are embarking on a new life together in Mitch's Oregon hometown of Laurelwood. It is immediately apparent that Meris is going to have a rough go of it: Her first exchange with Mitch's old friends is unbearably awkward, and it only gets worse.
Like its central character, there's something a little off about Rid of Me. Shot with effective quick-cuts that heighten its awkwardness and humor, Westby doesn't court convention with his quirky, sometimes immature character portrait. In one sense, Rid is sincere in its emotional realism; thanks in no small part to O'Grady's confident grasp on a tricky character, we feel Meris' pain when Mitch finally leaves her, and we root for her as she slowly rebuilds her identity.
On the other hand, aspects of the film's worldview are hard to interpret. The cartoonishly rigid portrayal of the popular/evil "kids" (Mitch's friends) vs. the punks with hearts of gold that Meris ultimately befriends is so complete that it reads as a nod to teen dramas, but pulls against the reality of Meris' character. The improbability of a mousy woman old enough to have been married falling in with wayward extras from SLC Punk! is distracting, and totally scrambles the ability to gauge her maturity. One gets the sense the dynamic evolved mainly because Westby and the cast (including Art Alexakis and John Breen, as well as a warm, funny performance from Orianna Herrman) were having fun with it.
As in Westby's previous film, The Auteur, the enjoyment that went into making Rid of Me is infectious. Even if it's sometimes hard to tell where Westby is winking, and where he's out of touch, his fiercely un-pandering joie de vivre is the signature of his work.