Off the Map (2003) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Off the Map is a "small" character-driven film that made the festival circuit in 2003 and then fell ... well ... off the map, unable to get distribution. Critics liked it, but nobody believed in its marketability. It was finally resuscitated this year for an arthouse run (10 theaters on opening weekend, 70 theaters at maximum). The people who doubted its drawing power were correct, because the film never did bring many people into the theaters, but those who came and liked it did not just like it in a polite golf clap way. They loved it; were moved by it; embraced it, as if it were the last gasp of the ideals so many of us cherished in the hippie era of the late 60s and early 70s.

Joan Allen and Sam Elliott play a couple living off the land, and off the map, doing a Southwest version of the Thoreau thing in 1974, out somewhere in the Land of Enchantment. They make very little money. They live off their own garden, some hunting, and what they can scrounge from trash areas. He's a victim of chronic depression, so his imperturbable laid-back wife is the rock and anchor of the family. They have a precocious child who is telling the story in flashback, but she is living off the map as well, home-schooled by her mom. Most of the world has forgotten them, but unfortunately, the IRS has not, and sends out an agent to track them down, audit them, and get back America's just share of their assorted leavings, refuse, and home-canned veggies. The IRS guy sees Joan Allen gardening in the nude, is stung by a bee, spends a few days delirious, and wakes up determined that he is in love with ol' Joan. More to the point, as Allen points out to him, he is actually in love with the ideals embodied by the family. She's right. He ends up with Stockholm Syndrome, forgets about the tax audit, and wanders around the desert while discovering a talent for painting. He ends up staying with the family for several years.

The film is not without weaknesses. Even though it is generally too long and the pace is too languorous, some plot developments are rushed - like the agent's "love" for Joan Allen despite knowing little about her except that she likes to garden naked. His profession of love made me uncomfortable, which I think the script wanted, but also made me think the IRS guy was a 'tard, which probably wasn't part of the plan. Although the photography is a magnificent evocation of the Great Southwest, Off the Map is an adapted stage play, and has not lost its stagy roots. The characters are sometimes hard to believe, as is their literary faux-poetic dialogue, and the narration can be all-too-precious, typical of a coming-of-age story told from the point of view of a 'tween female. I shifted uneasily in my seat when it got slow, and when it got hokey, and I don't much care for magic realism in general, but  ...

and this is an important "but" ...

I also see why some people love it so much. Headlined by excellent actors, it casts a hypnotic spell, draws you into the warmth of its vibe, and if you're not careful, it'll drive you out of the theater to sign up for zen classes and stock up on granola.


I can determine by the IMDb information that Sam Elliott was 59 when he made this film. I think that must be a hypothetical age, loosely based on the average age of his body parts. He appears to have a 79 year old head on a 39 year old body.



  • The transfer is widescreen, anamorphically enhanced (16x9)
  • Audio Commentary: Campbell Scott (Director)
  • Behind the Scenes Making-of Featurette
  • Behind the Scenes Scene Deconstruction


Joan Allen gardens in the nude. It's PG-13 nudity. There is a good look at her bum from the side-rear, and the end of one of her breasts. There is also a long distance shot which shows her facing the camera.

The Critics Vote ...

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a C+, a very deliberately crafted indie film with tremendous stars and an adoring cult following.

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