Shortly after being diagnosed with terminal cancer and given two months to live, Melody Wilder (Saffron Burrows) goes through the worst day of her life. In rapid succession she is fired from her thankless office job and dumped by her selfish boyfriend. Where on earth can she go from here? In a state of despair, Melody moves into an expansive new apartment on a short-term lease. Isolated from the wider world she embarks unexpectedly upon a life-changing odyssey sparked by dreams about the fiery red Fender Stratocaster guitar that so captivated her as a little girl (Mia Kucan).
Marking the directorial debut of Amy Redford, daughter of Robert Redford, The Guitar poses the question: what would you do if confronted with your own mortality coupled with the sense that you had wasted your life? For Melody's part the answer initially seems to be seek a clean slate as she moves into a vast empty space she then proceeds to fill. In essence, restoring the colour long absent from her life. She splurges on luxurious furniture, starts eating meat again including food she never tried before. She also takes to walking around naked, not in any sexually provocative sense, more as a mark of liberation or getting back to basics. Amusingly however, Melody soon grows to regret her impulsive clothes-shedding when forced to answer the door for the delivery guy naked. She forms an emotional connection with delivery man Roscoe (Isaach De Bankolé) and pizza girl Cookie (Paz de la Huerta), both of whom wind up as her lovers, seguing into a life-affirming menage-a-trios though each relationship eventually runs its natural course.
As crucial as this much longed for human contact is the most important relationship is the one Melody forges with the guitar she eventually buys. Faced with losing her voice to the throat tumor, the guitar comes to take its place as the means by which she vents her angst, rage and hope. It simultaneously embodies all her frustrated dreams and the means by which is finally able to express her long-suppressed inner self pointing to her eventual salvation. Scripted by New York-based indie auteur Amos Poe, a major player in the Seventies and Eighties on a scene variously described as punk cinema, No Wave Cinema and the Remodernist Film Movement, the film exhibits an authentic feel for the New York milieu with vividly offbeat characters, locations and situations. It has an undeniable punk rock sensibility manifest evident from its steadfast belief in music as catharsis and hedonism as an avenue towards a positive life-changing experience. Stripped of her bourgeois trappings and forced into a vagabond existence, Melody becomes more or less a rock star without a gig. Though we do learn that Roscoe is married and Cookie has an abusive boyfriend the film deliberately gives us little sense of life beyond Melody's apartment. In that sense its perspective on life is admittedly singular.
It is interesting how often in films like these the terminally ill protagonist has an abundance of cash with which to indulge their wildest fantasies. Here however the film does address what happens when the money runs out and following an unexpected turn of events Melody finds herself faced with a whole different set of problems than when we came in. After losing everything for a second time she grabs a second chance when the universe throws her a lifeline in a plot twist that smacks of wish-fulfillment to a degree yet still proves a heartening, almost fairytale like moment that proves deeply cathartic. Redford's stylish direction segues from the glacial claustrophobia and despair of the early scenes where Melody feels disconnected from the world at large, towards embracing the vast possibilities of life, making inventive visual use of space and the architecture of New York city. However, the heart of the film lies with the commanding performance delivered by Saffron Burrows who makes this uplifting fable that more believable.