You know how some people say things like “I would watch [actor] in anything,” and you take them at their word because it’s clear that they like and want to support that individual? Furlough is the type of movie that challenges that sort of statement. It takes two great talents, Tessa Thompson and Melissa Leo, puts them both on the screen for the majority of its running time, and is so twee and uninteresting that even their most ardent fans might start thinking about giving up.
Thompson plays Nicole Stevens, a correction officer at a female-only prison. She’s called into “emergency furlough duty” in order to escort Joan Anderson (Leo) on a weekend trip to visit her dying mother. “Hilarity” and “misadventures” ensue. You have to put quotation marks around both of those statements because neither of them actually come to fruition. The film is tonally a comedy but missing any of the laughs that it would need in order to work as one. Nothing these characters do is interesting or funny; it all just winds up feeling like a waste of assembled talent.
There are hints at, maybe, a better movie. Early on, Nicole’s sister asks how she can work in the mass incarceration system, given all of its problems. Does the film have any other criticisms or insight afterward about it? Of course not. That might engage the audience intellectually, and we can’t have that. Instead, we spend most of the movie with Nicole and Joan doing nothing much of consequence, all while potentially teasing that Joan might, maybe, perhaps, try to escape custody.
But it’s played too lightly to make us think that she really would, even if it seems like she’s trying. It’s a rather happy movie, with characters smiling and laughing even though they have little reason to do so. Joan only has six months to go before she’s released anyway; what possible reason would she have for trying to escape? It still tries to make us think she will, plot-wise, but in our heart of hearts we know how this is going to turn out.
Tessa Thompson and Melissa Leo are wasted here. Thompson is likable as a slightly naive officer dealing with this prisoner and also her own family, but none of that gives her much of a character to work with. She’s mean or kind depending on what the scene requires. Leo gets to have all sorts of fun as the prisoner but, when it comes time to have a couple of emotional moments, they don’t feel earned. Leo is a great actor but can’t sell them with her underdeveloped character. Actors like Whoopi Goldberg, Edgar Ramirez, and Anna Paquin have extended cameos that largely go to remind us that they’re actors who exist, not important characters in the movie.
Furlough is a light, uninteresting, and unenjoyable road trip movie about a corrections officer and her prisoner. It doesn’t have the insight to engage us intellectually, the jokes to make us laugh, or the depth to make us feel anything. It simply exists, and we watch it, and we probably want to do something else but it’s only 80ish minutes long so we grin and bear it. It wastes talented actors whom we wish were in a better movie.
Conclusion: Furlough wastes both good actors and our time with a nothing story and bland characters.
Recommendation: Even “I’d watch them in anything” people will probably want to avoid Furlough.