Latina actress America Ferrera remains best known as a skilled comedienne thanks to her lead roles in the big-screen comedies Our Family Wedding and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and, of course, her title role on the acclaimed TV sitcom Ugly Betty. With her impressive public profile in tow, Ferrera stars in writer/director Ryan Piers Williams' returning soldier drama, The Dry Land, and to the type of indie melodrama that launched her career in 2002 with Real Women Have Curves. Dry Land is a personal project for Ferrera, as she's an executive producer on the film as well as Williams' real-life partner. More importantly, Ferrera proves herself to be just as talented in dramatic roles, here playing a young bride trying to help her husband cope with a difficult return home from his tour of duty in Iraq. Williams can expect enough positive reviews to qualify his first feature drama as a worthy calling card for future projects. Box office will be modest like most Iraq War-themes dramas, and far behind Ferrera's wide-release comedies Our Family Wedding ($20 mil), Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants ($39 mil) and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 ($44 mil). Expect larger audiences to discover the film on home video.
Back in his rural Texas hometown, James (newcomer Ryan O'Nan) continues to battle with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), despite the efforts of his wife Sarah (Ferrera), his mother (Melissa Leo) and close friend Michael (Jason Ritter). James gains some much-needed peace when he and a platoon buddy (Wilmer Valderrama) make a cross-country road trip to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to visit an injured friend. Still, James remains convinced that his friend Michael (Jason Ritter) had an affair with his wife and it's only a matter of time before he loses control.
Instead of hard-core action, akin to Kathyrn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, filmmaker Ryan Piers Williams emphasizes family heartache driven by a returning Iraq soldier struggling to adjust to life away from the war zone. In fact, Dry Land is a contemporary companion film to Hal Ashby's 1978 drama Coming Home, in which a Vietnam vet falls for the wife of a soldier still serving overseas.
Williams worked on Steven Soderbergh's crew over three films and made the Latino-themed short Muertas before making his feature-length debut with Dry Land. Camerman Gavin Kelly makes beautiful use of the film's rural small town setting and editor Sabine Hoffman maintains a swift pace from start to finish. Still, it's Williams who stands out because of the standout performances he gains from his cast.
Ferrera's profile and tireless efforts to promote the film will help generate additional awareness when Maya Entertainment and Freestyle Releasing open the film in select theaters July 30. The Dry Land was part of the U.S. Dramatic Competition section at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.
Jason Ritter provides strong support as James' friend and Melissa Leo makes powerful use of her brief scenes as James' concerned mother. Wilmer Valderrama, best known for his hilarious turn on That ‘70s Show, gives an emotional performance as James' loyal friend. Ryan O'Nan makes full use of his first leading role with a complex portrayal that's both sympathetic and believably troubled. America Ferrera, so lovable in Ugly Betty, is grounded and believable as a young bride unsure how to help her damaged husband.
Last summer, director Kathryn Bigelow replaced politics with taut action and earned critical acclaim for her Iraq War drama The Hurt Locker. Williams and Ferrera emphasize the heartache of coming home in their Iraq War drama The Dry Land, and the result is a worthy family melodrama for the Iraq War generation.
Distributor: Maya Entertainment and Freestyle Releasing
Cast: Ryan O'Nan, America Ferrera, Jason Ritter, Melissa Leo and Wilmer Valderrama
Director/Screenwriter: Ryan Piers Williams
Producers: Heather Rae
Running time: 92 min
Rating: R for pervasive language, sexual content and disturbing violent situations
Release date: July 30 ltd.