It would be easy to dismiss Something, Anything sight unseen; after all, it wasn’t that long ago that Eat, Pray, Love saw a professional, privileged woman drop everything in an attempt to “find herself”. There is a moment in Paul Harrill’s film in which Peggy’s parents float the idea of sending her to Europe for just this very reason, but the idea is mercifully dropped seconds later and never mentioned again. For while in many respects this may indeed be another journey of self-discovery, it is nowhere near as simplistic or self-indulgent as Julia Roberts’ two-hour-long, round-the-world pampering session. Peggy’s desperation is quieter, less defined, and by extension far more complex. It’ll take more than pizza and prayer, is what I’m saying.
This isn’t a film of grandiose gestures or dramatic life-changes, but one of quiet contemplation and the smallest of victories. Despite having just lost a baby, Peggy’s chief concern is replacing the journal that disappeared on the way to the hospital. She picks up a rather austere-looking jotter, beginning anew with a short epitaph for her missing child. Her marriage breaks down, her friends abandon her and Tim fails to furnish her with the answers she was looking for, but where others might scream or cry Peggy simply notes it down in her diary — often at length — and carries on. Though she might seem passive, reluctant to engage with the world, her restraint is dignified rather than disappointing. She isn’t looking for a miracle, or even for God, just for her place in the world, and who can’t relate to that?
Selton is quietly compelling as Peggy, or Margaret, as she decides to rechristen herself. She is no victim — she gets by, earns a living and stands her ground when it counts — but there is a vulnerability to her character that is incredibly endearing, and makes her achievements all the more admirable. It may take her a while to leave Mark, and even longer to quit her job, but rather than frustrate her uncertainty and hesitations just makes her easier to empathise with. Peggy attempts to find enrichment by giving up her phone, photocopying sections of the bible and going for a late-night drive; rather than pity her apparent lack of ambition, however, you feel immensely proud of her simply for having the courage to act. Peggy’s decisions feel authentic, honest, real — they have the ring of truth about them.
Although Harrill’s film might not feature the most charismatic of characters or manufacture the most dramatic of conflicts it still manages to be powerful in other ways. Something, Anything is an intimate, thoughtful and understated exploration of American malaise that doesn’t feel the need to draw conclusions or colour its characters on its audience’s behalf. Peggy may not be asking for much, but she has everything to offer.