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Asleep in My Palm movie review (2024)

The dad, Tom, is played by the writer-director’s own father Tim Blake Nelson (“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”) with a reserved sense of gravity and the earned wisdom of a toughened someone who has elected not to play by society’s rules. His daughter, Beth Anne, is portrayed by Chloë Kerwin in a wonderful feature debut (prior to her “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” turn) that splits the difference between her teenaged character’s wide-eyed curiosity and hard-earned maturity that she’s slowly and reluctantly settling into. The duo secretly lives inside a storage unit by a liberal arts college in Ohio (possibly Oberlin), with a space they have packed with modest furniture and trinkets they have supplied (well, stolen) here and there. For bathroom needs, they frequent the local McDonald’s and a corner deli with a kindly owner. For a hot shower, they have their proven technique to break into the college dorms. They don’t have modern conveniences, but Tom always seems to have a plan to make it work.

Harnessing an off-kilter sense of humor, “Asleep in My Palm” is at its best when Nelson astutely shadows Tom and Beth Anne’s routines through a caring lens across stories Tom tells Beth Anne like she’s a toddler (and frequently uses profanity like she’s his drinking buddy) and all the freewheeling time they spend in the chilly campus environs. In an especially sharp sequence, filmed and edited with the directorial finesse of someone far more experienced, Nelson follows Tom as he spends an entire night stealing bikes from around the campus, and collecting them in a safe spot until his eventual buyer shows up in the morning. The customer is the motormouth smalltime fixer Jose, played agilely by a loose-limbed and terrific Jared Abrahamson who contrasts Tom’s brainy severity with an off-the-cuff sort of quality.

We know from the likes of Debra Granik’s (admittedly far superior) “Leave No Trace” that no off-the-grid existence can remain as such, especially when the life, hungers and curiosities of a teenage girl continue to expand and grow. In Beth Anne’s case, an artsy, privileged and pseudo-Satanist student collective serves as a gateway to such pastures, briefly introducing her to their leader Dark Mortius (a charismatic Grant Harvey) and an enigmatic student in their ranks, Gus Birney’s alluring Millah. It ends up being Millah who awakens the smitten Beth Anne’s sexual appetite through a stolen kiss. And with that newfound desire and confidence, Beth Anne starts wondering what possibilities might be beyond their hidden life, ones that are always going to be out of reach to her.

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