“If misery loves company, misery has company enough.”

— Henry David Thoreau

There is nothing in “Northern Borders” to astonish.

But then astonishing is so over rated this season. Astonishing is for the 6:30 news and maybe Dave Letterman’s “Stupid Pet Tricks.”

In a season of uber violence, of spies and monsters, evil things eating unsuspecting teenage summer campers, we yearn for calm, and calm is what we get in Jay Craven’s “Northern Borders,” where we meet Austen and Abiah Kittredge. There is misery here to be sure, but unspoken, and painful memories in an old Vermont house that sanctifies mildew.

Bruce Dern, who won a much deserved nomination for his curmudgeon in “Nebraska,” has slipped back into Woody Grant’s overalls. Austen’s wife, Abiah, returns the long absent Genevieve Bujold to the screen. Here, she is a woman damaged by her husband’s lies and her tragic past. Abiah lives out her life in the piney woods of Vermont, draped in woolens, collecting Egyptian artifacts and looking after her chickens, while killing swarm flies with a broom.

Into their quiet lives comes a young grandson, also named Austen (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, “Moonrise Kingdom”) who has been sent to live with them for a few weeks. It seems that young Austen’s headmaster father is having troubles with his job and marriage and doesn’t want the boy to see his pain.

While in the ancestral homestead, Austin learns all he needs to know about the family’s quirky and troubled past. We learn that one of his aunts, with her ex husband who was allegedly the great-great grandson of Missouri’s Jesse James, actually robbed a bank in town, and then vanished. But surprise, the sister Liz (Jessica Hecht, “Sideways,” “The Forgotten”) slips back into town in the middle of a maple syrup festival, and it seems that no one really missed her.

The bandit sister then recruits young Austen to help her locate her purloined buried cash. Of course, the notion that actress Jessica Hecht, Manhattan to her roots, and a Seinfeld veteran, could have been brought up in rural Vermont is a stretch.

But it’s the shaky friendship between grandpa and grandson that’s at the heart of the film. Old Austin teaches his grandson the mysteries of his saw mill, how to hold and shoot a gun, and apparently, how to drive the old truck. It’s in the hills, that old Austin tells the story of his first bride, an Inuit teenager, with whom he had a child. The baby and bride both died, and Austin buried them high in the hills of his farm. This grave site seems to be at the heart of the darkness between the grandparents.

There will be a courtroom scene when wife sues husband because he wants to get on the grid, and she favors oil lamps. But a gift of a vacuum cleaner changes her mind.

Other than locals and friends of the director, including a healthy dose of dozens of young college wannabe film makers, a lot of familiar friends appear here: Mark Margolis, a veteran of dozens of mob movies (“Scarface”) plays a masterful town drunk, and Jacqueline Hennessy “30 Rock” and “Saturday Night Live”) are here, just to name a few.

Both Craven, and Howard Frank Mosher who wrote this novel and several others, are old Vermonters and have worked well together before. Craven, a pretty good director who knows where to put his camera, and how to light Dern’s snowy locks, has filled his cast wisely.

Most may be part of local theatre groups, and old friends from various colleges. His crew, as well, seem to be recruited from college staffs. The end credits list a long line of colleges including Sarah Lawrence, Boston U, New York University, Wheaton College and Mount Holyoke, and an impressive list of benefactors, including the estate of Paul Newman. But it’s the artistic bond between Kingdom County Productions and Marlboro College that is at the center of Craven’s productions.

Young blue-eyed Seamus may have a career ahead for himself, but I get the feeling he’s too smart to be an actor.

It’s always nice to see Ms. Bujold. She’s embodies what the late Spencer Tracy called, “quality.”

And of course, we get good old Bruce Dern, a class act survivor. But what is left for him to do but King Lear? Someone call the Weinsteins.

J.P. Devine is a former stage and screen actor.


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