April 27, 2019
by Carla Hay
“The Place of No Words”
Directed by Mark Webber
World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 27, 2019.
If you want to sit through a 95-minute family home movie with the production values of a drama-student program and artsy pretensions about death, then step right up and get ready to experience “The Place of No Words” from writer/director/star Mark Webber. The movie goes back and forth between parallel worlds—one world takes place in the present day, while the other is a fantasy realm inhabited by creatures that look like rejects from Spike Jonze’s 2009 movie “Where the Wild Things Are,” as well as fairies, witches and knights.
The film’s story centers on a family, played by Webber, his real-life wife (Australian actress Teresa Palmer) and their eldest child (Bodhi Palmer). All of their characters in the movie’s modern-day world have the same first names. In the movie’s fantasy world, Mark and son Bodhi (who’s 3 years old in the movie) are supposed to be Vikings of some sort, and they spend a lot of time walking together through woods, where they occasionally encounter the aforementioned mystical creatures. The fantasy world isn’t completely in the dark ages because Viking Mark uses his smartphone to take photos after a fairy named Esmerelda (played by Nicole Elizabeth Berger) leads him and Bodhi into a scenic area in the woods. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.
Bodhi is an angelic-looking child, whose long blonde hair gives him a deliberately androgynous look. (Webber and Palmer have told the media that they’re raising their children as gender-neutral.) Bodhi is curious, intelligent and a little rebellious, and he adeptly handles what appears to be a lot of improvised dialogue. But when the movie’s press notes describe Bodhi as giving a “tour-de-force performance” in the film, that’s a sign that perhaps Webber is being too much a proud stage dad to notice that this movie is a self-indulgent bore that was obviously made to showcase his family instead of offering quality entertainment.
“The Place of No Words” attempts to answer a question that Bodhi asks in the beginning of the film: “Where do we go when we die?” It’s eventually revealed that modern-day Mark in the movie is a father who has the kind of illness (which is not named in the film) that requires him to be in a hospital bed with an IV tube stuck in his arm. There are enough scenes in the movie to signal that his illness is terminal, and everyone in the family is going through various emotions because of it.
The fantasy sequences are clearly a reflection of the way the real-world characters are coping with his illness. This might be a high concept, but the film’s cheesy production values (including 1980s-level visual effects and the fantasy-world costumes that look like they were borrowed from a high school) are distinctly lowbrow even for an average low-budget film. The film’s sloppy-cheap look might have been a deliberate choice since the movie tries really hard to be the type of cool-ironic indie film that will be praised as “edgy.” Instead, the “edgy” humor that the movie attempts sometimes goes into “Jackass” territory, such as a sequence whose details are too gross to mention here, but it involves farting, excrement and the use of the word “Uranus” as a pun.
Disgusting anus gimmicks aside, “The Place of No Words” has Mark and Bodhi’s relationship at the heart of the movie. Wife/mother Teresa is almost there as a sidekick to either play with Bodhi or comfort her husband. The supporting characters are somewhat forgettable, but that might be because the cheap costumes they have to wear are very distracting from what they say in the movie, which isn’t anything substantial. The aforementioned “Where the Wild Things Are” wannabe gnome-like creatures are a father-and-son team that some might interpret as being a weird monster manifestation of Mark and Bodhi as adults.
“The Place of No Words” isn’t the worst movie you could ever see, but its intentions to make a thoughtful commentary on death are so badly handled that it’s disappointing and might be offensive to some people. Any messages that the movie had about dying are overshadowed by the real intention of the movie, which seems to be director Webber casting his adorable son in the film to make him a star.