A star making turn from Courtney Eaton makes Brittany Snow’s directorial debut Parachute one of the most emotionally gripping films of 2023 so far.
There are times when you are watching a performance and can just tell that the person behind the character has an “it” factor. Courtney Eaton’s work in Parachute is without question one of those cases. She is simply phenomenal in a role that one could imagine took a toll on her because of the difficulties that the film’s protagonist, Riley Hart, faces. Actress Brittany Snow also has a knack for directing, given that she assembled such a stellar cast (featuring several performers that she has previously worked with) and crafts something that feels so close to her heart from the director’s chair.
Parachute follows a woman in her mid-twenties named Riley Hart (Courtney Eaton) who has just been released from rehab after struggling with an eating disorder. She will have to figure out how to move her life forward, which includes navigating her new relationship with the charming Ethan (Thomas Mann) while still battling her issues.
What we have here is a heart wrenching directorial debut from Brittany Snow. This script captures so much in a very authentic way. When dealing with a subject as serious as eating disorders as a writer and director, you have to be careful about what and how you depict that. Snow, alongside co-writer Becca Gleason, handles the film’s primary subject matter with real grace and in a way that is thoughtful. What is also key is that neither attempts to sugarcoat the topic, they tackle things head on, and Parachute is so much better for it.
Compared to a film like The Whale (2022), which at times handled the issues of obesity and grief in a way that could be seen as distasteful, Parachute puts the struggles of its protagonist Riley on display in a way that audiences can understand and empathize with. Riley is not constantly featured in scenes with grotesque visuals that seem to make her out to be a monster because of her illness like Brendan Fraser’s Charlie. There is one scene that may conjure up similar memories, but does not have a ridiculous score behind it.
However, she has other drawbacks, whether they are due to her eating disorder, general lack of direction in life, or otherwise. A vast majority of Riley’s problems in the narrative can be relatable to audiences one way or another. This story is very much set in the modern day, and Snow and Gleason capture the toxic impact of social media on one’s mental health quite well. What we see on our feeds can lead to unfair comparisons and us getting down on ourselves. Even someone as wonderful and beautiful as Courtney Eaton’s Riley is not able to avoid the negative things that her mind tells her.
Watching Riley struggle with her eating disorder will absolutely wreck you. We see almost the entire film through her eyes, and you are constantly given a sense of what she is feeling and the impact her disorder has on her mind. We also see the toll that Riley and her issues, even though she is not strictly at fault, take on those around her. This is where the film thrives, because Snow and Gleason have chosen a subject to focus on and crafted the ideal protagonist to tell this story through. You may not always like Riley or perhaps find her to be difficult, but the key is understanding where she is and why our protagonist is this way. The script, along with Courtney Eaton’s performance, makes you get inside her head and more often than not relate to her on some level.
Those that are familiar with Eaton, particularly from the Showtime series Yellowjackets, know what she is capable of as an actress. Parachute gives her a compelling character on paper in Riley and she takes her to an entirely different stratosphere. This is a performance that will absolutely rip your heart in two before slowly piecing it back together. Eaton gives everything she has, delivering several moving monologues and making the script’s darkest moments leave such an emotional scar. Even when our lead is at her worst, Courtney Eaton refuses to let audiences forget that Riley is human and has been through so much. This is the type of exceptional performance that should catapult her into the mainstream and one that viewers will not forget easily.
Another standout of Parachute is Francesca Reale as Riley’s best friend Casey. Their friendship is so interesting and at times can be better than Riley’s relationship with ex musician Ethan. Reale nearly steals some scenes right out from under Eaton. She embodies someone that obviously wants the best for her close friend, but has been severely impacted by Riley’s decision making very well.
I will give Courtney Eaton and Thomas Mann credit: they are good together and this narrative would have a noticeable hole if the relationship between their characters was not a factor. They also sometimes provide brief breaks from the tension that Riley’s eating disorder brings on. The main issue with Riley and Ethan is that they tend to reach cliché territory in a film that for the most part is grounded and authentic. Even their first meeting is pretty cringey. Despite some cute and tearjerking moments between Eaton and Mann’s characters, viewers may find themselves more intrigued by the friendship of Riley and Casey at times.
Dave Bautista, who portrays Bryce, owner of a murder mystery theater restaurant, also deserves some love. He continues to take roles that challenge him a bit as an actor. Here, Bautista is tasked with making the most of a small role that is key to Riley’s character development and Snow gets exactly what she needs from him as a director.
Along with the clichéd-ish nature of Riley and Ethan’s relationship, Parachute has a script that is just a little too long. Both things have the potential to take audiences out of the story being told. Especially when that story is reaching a natural end point and yet has our primary characters go through the same argument again for some reason. Courtney Eaton may get to deliver a few more excellent moments before things finally conclude, but she should not have to.
There is so much to love about Parachute, even with the script’s issues. Courtney Eaton gives such a terrific performance as Riley Hart in a story that is clearly dear to Writer/Director Brittany Snow and her co-writer Becca Gleason. This film’s ability to handle a tough subject with such class should be admired and I am positive that audiences will find some way to relate to what Riley experiences.
Parachute will be screened at the Raindance Film Festival on November 3, 2023.