There are a couple of ways that the indie drama “Fairhaven” lends regional flavor to its portrait of the claustrophobia and comfort of small-town life. First, naturally, are the fishing boat shots. They’re familiar, but they handsomely help establish that this is Massachusetts we’re looking at, something that can’t necessarily be gleaned from other art-photography imagery we’re shown: a high school field, wintry neighborhoods, an abandoned roller coaster. A more prominent local touch is a character’s amusing fixation on an old Tom Brady “60 Minutes” interview, in which the already three-time Super Bowl champ reflected on his life and career and wondered, essentially, “Is this it?” Not a bad way of freshening up yet another indie-cinema search for self (and that’s true regardless of any “Go Pats!” predisposition we might have to be receptive).
The film’s promise might amount to something even greater if there were more of this sort of thing, more pushing past surface characterization. The slender story line features Medford-bred writer-director Tom O’Brien as Jon, a faded jock and aspiring writer still somehow kicking around town in a deckhand gig, trying to sort out his self-actualization issues through everything from therapy to group meditation. (No wonder he’s got the Brady hangup — with his hunky gaze and chiseled, stubbled jaw, he even looks vaguely like Brady.) On the settled-life scale, Jon falls somewhere between his friend Sam (Rich Sommer, “Mad Men”), a schlubby, divorced dad, and their old buddy Dave (Chris Messina, “Argo”), back in town for his estranged father’s funeral and partying harder than ever. Jon, it’s clear, isn’t the only one struggling to figure things out.
O’Brien and his castmates seem to play loose with his script a bit more than they should in an effort to give the material a lived-in feeling. Aiming for local hangout scenes that are less polished than in, say, “Beautiful Girls” is fine, but it can lead to filler — elliptical chatter and laments along the lines of, “This town, man. . .” We get that Jon is feeling things out with his New Agey crush (likable Alexie Gilmore), but their flirty awkwardness rambles at times. A scene in which Sam fumblingly rediscovers intimacy mostly avoids this problem, maybe thanks to Sommer’s experience doing a lot with a little on “Mad Men.”
Tellingly, some of the strongest drama lies in a more precisely played scene between Dave and Sam’s ex (Sarah Paulson, “American Horror Story”), with whom Dave has some interesting history. That said, O’Brien also has some very nice moments in an emotionally free-form therapy scene — in which his character’s thoughts do turn back to, yes, never-satisfied Number 12 again. We’d say the guy needs to let it go already, but it’s too idiosyncratically entertaining listening to him obsess.
Tom Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.