Don't Come Knocking

Not exactly Godot.

Searching for parents is a frustrating business, whether they have been truly lost or figuratively so. In the past few years Big Fish and Barbarian Invasions, to name two of many, depicted the painful longing of sons to understand, in a sense to find, their brilliant, eccentric, and rambling dads. Writer Sam Shepard is no stranger to familial disaffection and discovery, as his play Buried Child and film Paris, Texas can attest. His newest screenplay, Don't Come Knocking, comes as close to Paris, Texas, as possible without plagiarizing itself.

At the heart of Knocking is a lonely, aging cowboy movie star, Howard Spence (Shepard), who leaves the set of his $30 million movie in Moab, Utah, on horseback to seek out the family he left behind decades ago. As he shucks his movie costume for more authentic cowboy duds, he descends into a maelstrom of recrimination and wonder, from a family, including his ex-girlfriend Doreen (Shepard's real-life love, Jessica Lange) and a son and daughter he never knew or "knew about" would be more accurate. Howard has been a coward about his responsibilities, emphasized by his leaving the set and before that his pregnant lovers. And it appears he now wants to face those demons.

Shepard's dialogue is spare enough to make Harold Pinter's seem overwrought, and it is colloquial and laconic enough to make you wonder if you yourself couldn't have written it. Don't be fooled; Shepard's dialogue draws us into the real world of simple people like ourselves, who speak simply, but whose subtexts are filled with the agony of living everyday with departed dads and half-demented kids.

Shepard's terse language is aided by the sensibility of director Wim Wenders, who directed Paris, Texas with the same laconic absurdity with which Shepard infuses his texts and performances. This film is not exactly Godot, but it is close, messes of a situation made messier by the lack of communication we all bring to the big issues. But then, that's the stuff of great theater and film, messes a playwright cleans up with screenplay that washes over the human stain leaving barely a trace. As Howard's mother (Eva Marie Saint) asks him, "How did you get to be such a mess, Howard?" Ain't it the truth for all of us?