The Soundtrack to Real Life: All These Small Moments
Sometimes, living feels so big and bold that we forget that our lives are really just made up of tiny, fleeting moments — unremarkable fragments of something so much grander. This is the beauty of All These Small Moments, a film by Melissa Miller Costanzo (in her directorial debut) that fights to make room for seemingly disjointed memories in the big picture we call life.
Starring Molly Ringwald and Brian d’Arcy James as Carla and Tom Sheffield, a couple on the brink of devastating marital undoing witnessed (and often pummeled) by their teenage sons Howie and Simon (Brendan Meyer and Sam McCarthy respectively), All These Small Moments deals in pieces. Time seems to pass without being accounted for and characters fall in and out of their own flaws, but this sort of jumbled narrative is exactly what the film is meant to present. We watch as, in the midst of his parents’ crumbling marriage, Howie becomes infatuated with a woman he met on the bus (Jemima Kirke as Odessa). We watch him misunderstand, then learn from, his classmate Lindsay (Harley Quinn Smith). We watch splices of real-life love and loss — and ultimately their inevitable kinship — in the way scenes unfold quietly, perfectly framed shots of a passing gaze or clean linens or footsteps leading a character away again and again. It’s in these moments that we are privy to the minutiae we can’t see pile up like building blocks in our own lives.
All These Small Moments, in all its quiet glory, serves to unveil the impossibly human error of fumbling our way through both tragedy and triviality. Often they feel interchangeable — we feel things too hard or not enough and we struggle to recognize the difference. This phenomenon happens over and over again in All These Small Moments, played out beautifully with standout performances by a cast who gets it. Or maybe they didn’t until they had to, just like us as viewers. Either way, every character offers a raw inward look at the viewer staring back at them.
Coincidentally, this concept of viewing and voyeurism — looking out, looking in, looking away, looking down — abounds as the central theme of the film. Every scene is connected by a look: often a desperate, longing stare by Howie, sometimes a resigned or regretful glance from Carla or Tom, occasionally a meaningful peek by a supporting character. This is what makes All These Small Moments so uncomfortably (read: lovingly) real; the feelings we know must be sitting on the fringes of each frame, the searing silence that touches so many scenes, the things told with a single look — it’s the quiet stuff of every day life. Nothing in-your-face about it. Just soft takes on lives struggling to be more than half-lived.
Beyond the visuals that make the film so stellar in simplicity, though, is its soundtrack. With Broadway conductor, composer, and overall music man Dan Lipton as instrumental composer, and producer and curator Charles Newman of Brooklyn-based label Mother West serving as music supervisor, All These Small Moments is given the gift of spectacular sonic treatment. From Dan’s unassuming acoustic pieces and sparkling piano compositions to Charles’ genre-hopping selection of sunny songs, the soundtrack breathes more life into a film already giving its (understated) all to highlighting the disquietude that shakes up our day-to-day.
All These Small Moments rolls its opening credits to Slow Runner’s “My Love Will Bring You Back,” hopeful and smacking with color, so much color. It’s a punchy introduction to a movie that will deviate often from the warm tone it sets, but rest assured we will return eventually to that eagerness.
In a Mother West exclusive session released today, All These Small Moments’ two prolific leads — Ringwald and James — sweetly join Slow Runner’s Michael Flynn in studio to share harmonies on the film’s opening track. It’s special. There’s a lot of heart here. Ringwald and James get a chance to tentatively, humbly share their vocal chops, a surprising extension of the acting talent we already knew they boasted. Over in just two short minutes, the live session is yet another example of the gentle magic All These Small Moments seeks to, and succeeds in, managing.
After the film’s dynamic music opener, we work our way through a few more carefully curated soundtrack choices embedded in between Lipton’s score. Quickly, it’s clear that Lipton’s pretty orchestral compositions creep into the film during moments that seem ordinary — Howie rests his gaze on a woman on a bus, he zooms in on a picture of Lindsay, Tom spots Carla across the street — but are in fact pivotal scenes that silently scream “I have seen you, you are seen, I see you,” the resounding theme of the movie. When the characters don’t speak, the music does. Soft sparkles of plinking piano and layers of acoustic strums reveal the emotion bursting off the screen, Lipton’s score acting as a savior of silence.
Then there’s the soundtrack — Newman and Miller pluck all the right songs to highlight several key scenes. That gorgeous shot of Howie and Odessa standing at the bus stop, so much unsaid between them, is spoken for by “Coming Down Around Me,” an original performed and written by Vermont-based troubadour Kris Gruen with writing help from Miller herself. It’s a tender track, rollicking with percussive shimmers and Gruen’s gentle vocals delivering a bittersweet narrative. Later, All These Small Moments kicks up with a few woozy, dazzling choices like “Jeanne, It’s Just A Ride” from indie-rock outfit Aloud and “The Fifth” from alt-rock group Birds Of Bellwoods. In this way, the movie plays a tug-of-war between earnest ballads mirroring the overwhelming life happening on screen and quirky instrumentals acting as hopeful interludes for what we want to come.
The soundtrack is padded with other gorgeous selections like the foggy sweetness of Jaymay’s “Lullaby” and buzzy surf-pop effort “Matte Iru” by J-pop group Gaijin à Go-Go. Rich with talent that hops from one genre to another without warning, All These Small Moments’ soundtrack tells the story of real-life versatility.
Early on in the film, Tom Sheffield urges his wife to think — just think — about the state of their relationship, his wild eyes searching hers as he talks about “that frenetic, energetic love…” Later, he sums up early affection with a few clipped lines: “This is love, this is love, this is it.” And it is. Until it isn’t.
In quiet moments and minimalist scenes, All These Small Moments demonstrates both the untamed nature of love and its inevitable comedown. By the end of the film, there’s a scene between Howie and Odessa that more clearly depicts the violent implications of linking loneliness — the false connection found through mutual grief. Ultimately, All These Small Moments seems to center around unraveling. Scene by scene, shot by shot, Melissa Miller Costanzo beautifully captures different stages of coming undone — the age-inappropriate infatuation of a boy caught in his parents’ crossfire, the half-hearted attempt at reconciliation for a middle-aged couple learning to re-love each other, the poignant confession of a girl who is more than what the world labeled her.
There is so much sad beauty to All These Small Moments. The catch is that these moments are, in fact, small. But if you connect what you see with what you hear, you will find all the endless instances of magic hiding in the corners of this film, conducted by a thoughtful cast and a versatile soundtrack.
Listen to All These Small Moments’ soundtrack below and watch the film for yourself, out on demand now.
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