Film Review: There Is a New World Somewhere

Li Lu’s bland road movie is barely salvaged by the talents of its star, Agnes Bruckner.
Specialty Releases

These days, it seems like everyone wants to be a filmmaker, and everyone has a story they feel they need to share. In the case of There Is a New World Somewhere, the debut feature by Chinese-American artist and filmmaker Li Lu, it’s hard to find anything original or compelling enough to set it apart, other than the return of its talented star, Agnes Bruckner.

Winner of a couple of regional film festivals including something called the “Boonies International Film Festival”—one imagines they don’t get many independent films out there in the “boonies”—it’s a romantic drama following a twenty-something New York artist named Sylvia (Bruckner), who we meet as she’s let go from her dead-end job serving drinks at a Chelsea art gallery. She goes back home to Texas for a college friend’s wedding, where she meets a musician named Esteban (Maurice Compte) at a party. After going out on one date, he convinces her to drive to Nashville with him.

That’s the set-up for what becomes another indie road movie that explores the relationship between strangers who have just met. It does little to explain the fact that it never makes sense for Sylvia to travel all the way to Texas, just to turn around and go off on a road trip with a perfect stranger. Granted, her friends are pretty annoying—as typified by the normally great Ashley Bell, wasted in a disappointingly slim role as the friend on whom Sylvia bails—but nothing ever really adds up in terms of her motivations.

A striking beauty and former “It Girl,” Bruckner squandered much of the aughts appearing in bad horror movies, so it’s nice to see her cast in something that allows her to bring more depth and a certain poignancy to a role now that she’s in her 30s. Her performance might have brought more to Li’s first feature if she weren’t so sorely mismatched with the handsome Compte, since there’s very little chemistry between them.

Because so much of the film relies on that, it’s never convincing she’d fall for him so easily, and the film quickly turns into a rote indie drama about strangers on the road with all its ups and downs, as Sylvia and Esteban get to know each other.  As they discuss their respective lives, there isn’t much about their conversations to keep the viewer invested, and their sex scenes, as classily as they’re handled, don’t do much better.

The relationship does grow on you, as does Li’s film, but it has a hard time proving its worth among hundreds of similar first-time features, offering very little in the way of innovative storytelling or filmmaking. It just plods along on this couple’s journey, giving one hope it might lead to something other than a resolution we’re already expecting. Nothing significant happens until their relationship starts falling apart, as these things often do, which is also where the two actors begin to step up their game.

Lu has a better visual eye than a knack for writing dialogue that feels natural, and the film works best when we’re just watching Bruckner or Compte and letting the haunting score by Zahid Dewji and Benoit Pioulard convey the emotions. Li certainly has good instincts for finding memorable musical choices, but when you find yourself liking the music more than you do the movie, maybe you should just buy the soundtrack album?

For some, Li Lu’s debut will seem just fine, but it doesn’t offer anything original or memorable to really stick with you, maybe because it uses so many of the clichés already prevalent in similar indie dramas. Bruckner, on the other hand, shows that she has a lot more to offer as an actor, and she elevates the material as best she can.

Click herefor cast and crew information.