The Biggest Little Farm
Directed by John Chester
Written by John Chester and Mark Monroe
Featuring: John Chester, Molly Chester and a lot of manure
Classification: PG; 91 minutes
Like the many flora and fauna populating the title property in The Biggest Little Farm, John Chester’s film is a little bit of everything.
It begins as a cute and wholesome slice-of-life documentary, chronicling Chester and his wife Molly’s ambitions to leave their tiny Santa Monica apartment to start a farm that “co-exists with nature.” But as the film stretches on, and as Chester begins to slather his narration with eye-rolling lines like, “Along with the coyote died my uncompromising idealism,” the film’s harmless pro-nature message is replaced with a drippy sense of self-congratulatory idealism, turning the film into a home movie by way of humble-brag. And then, by the hour mark, it’s merely a giant commercial for the couple’s 200-acre Apricot Lane Farms in Moorpark, Calif.
Chester is a skilled director – he slickly blends handheld footage with time-lapse photography and swooping drone shots – but he’s not an actual documentarian. Or, at least, he doesn’t pose many of the basic questions that anyone not invested in the success of Apricot Lane Farms would have. Such as: How did he and Molly support such a large and always-smiling staff despite not growing anything for the first few years of operation (there is no financial information offered, and the few mystery investors mentioned early on are never heard from again); aside from the 2018 California wildfires that bookend the film, how does climate change factor into Apricot Lane’s future (I don’t recall ever hearing the words “climate change” in the film); and what does the farming industry think of Apricot Lane’s “biodiversity” model (there’s a quick and derisive flick at factory farming, but zero outside perspective provided on the Chesters’ philosophy).
Chester is heavily invested in the ins and outs of manure, but he either can’t, or chooses not to, smell the stink coming off his own film.
The Biggest Little Farm opens May 17 in Toronto and Vancouver.