Colewell, a quiet character study

Karen Allen in Colewell

Colewell is a lovely, meditative film starring Karen Allen. Although I label it a good film, I think it will appeal to a very narrow audience. Karen Allen gives a terrific performance as the postmistress of a small town. The film is on Showtime.

In Colewell, Nora lives a life of gentle routine. She rises, puts on the coffee, gathers eggs from her small flock of chickens and has breakfast (eggs, of course). She opens the post office, which is attached to her home. She always has a couple of extra eggs for Charles (Kevin J. O’Connor), who drives the mail truck each morning to the small rural post office Nora runs.

During the day the entire town passes through the post office. Some sit and chat, some exchange just a few words. It’s the social hub of the community. When Nora closes the post office each evening, she goes back into her home where she eats alone and sleeps alone.

Nora receives a notice that her contract will not be renewed and the post office at Colewell will be closed. Her options are to move to another position in a slightly larger community a bus ride away or take her retirement.

Karen Allen in Colewell
Nora revisits a favorite spot where he husband carved their names

Nora is upset and so are the residents who will be affected. They try fighting for the post office to remain. Nora spends time evaluating her situation and whether she’s willing to start over at her age (she’s 65). If it weren’t for the people coming to the P.O. each day, who would she even see or talk to?

The film is quiet. There’s a lot of being alone and thinking. It’s a treatise on aging and loneliness. The narrow audience for the film I mentioned will be the people willing to sit quietly and ponder aging and loneliness with Nora.

Hannah Gross in Colewell
Who was Ella?

Tom Quinn wrote and directed the film. He did something late in the film that I found intriguing. He introduced Ella (Hannah Gross). Was she a younger Nora? Was she a stranger passing through Nora’s life to show that young people can be lonely, too? I couldn’t figure out why Ella was there or what she meant. And then the film ended. Boom. That’s all folks. An abrupt and startling ending which further added to my questions.

Even though I wish the last act had been more clarifying than confusing, the film gave Karen Allen a starring role and she made the most of it. (Yes, #EldersRock) It was a look at small town America and a way of life that urbanite and contemporary folks don’t know much about.

The poster for Colewell

Here’s a preview.

If you watch it I’d like to know what you thought of Ella and the ending.

19 thoughts on “Colewell, a quiet character study”

  1. Beautiful scenery and Allen’s awesome performance made it worth a watch. However, it could have been “developed further” and given more clarity. But perhaps the lack of clarity was meant instead to engage the person watching to fill in the blanks and draw our own conclusions. It gives one the opportunity for introspective contemplation about our own unique characteristics, challenges and regrets in our lives as we find ourselves in our “golden” years.

  2. I thought “Coldwell”:was marvelous. I, for one, choose to think Ella was the young Nora. I base this on the pensive and long silent period she sat by the lake.

  3. Loved the cinematography-totally lost by the ending. I guess Ella was Eleanor before she met Andy but was she talking to herself at the dinner table when the two were having dinner or was Nora hallucinating or what? She sure needs to get out more. A car would help.

  4. I’m 75 and started a new life in a new city two years ago. I live alone with my dog. I empathized with Nora but found myself telling her to plant a garden, learn to knit, read a book, learn to knit, open a bookstore or a bake shop in the old post office. There are so many meaningful ways to spend our latter years. We don’t need to feel lonely just because we are alone. As a character study I thought it was stunning. I feel sure Ella and Nora are both Eleanor at different times in her life. Marlene Bumgarner, author of Back to the Land in Silicon Valley.

  5. I finished watching, alone, a few moments ago and came online in search of Ella’s identity. Every comment here echos my thoughts and questions; even living 2 years in a new community at 75, Marlene!
    “Colewell” will join “Tender Mercies” and “Places in the Heart”, films to revisit.

  6. Blondeseashell

    I was startled by the abrupt ending myself. Ellie, in my opinion, is definitely Nora when she was younger. That was her husband Andy who she asked for the ride up North. He said he worked in the quarry, so that’s how they met. He told her to call him if she ever needed a ride somewhere; he was smitten. After marriage she changed how she liked to be called from the youthful ‘Ellie’ to mature ‘Nora’; both derived from her full name Eleanor. Yes, she was speaking to her younger self at the table; about hitching and how time is fluid and fleeting. Loved the movie…. not so much the ending. Felt incomplete.

  7. Oh my gosh, what a thoughtful and poignant movie! First of all, Ella is definitely a young Nora – the first clue was the backpack Nora was wearing in the woods – then the scene changes to the same backpack on young Ella. I so wanted Nora to turn on some music in her house or get a dog. I’m very much like Nora – age 65, live alone, no kids, my 33 year job ended (not abruptly though) and I had to find a new path. I had hoped Nora would take the job in Delaney – this would have forced her out of her comfort zone, and would have provided an income. She would still have had her home and community to return to every day. I found myself several months ago taking a job that requires a long commute – 3 hour round trip, twice a week – which is of course not ideal, but you do what you have to do and I so look forward to arriving home to my house, dog and cat after that commute. Nora was herself at arms length (and in fact literally behind the counter) with the members of the community. She didn’t really interact with them and I found it so sad that she could not bring herself to knock on the door of the knitting lady after she saw that another lady (who she knew) was there. You had to wonder why wouldn’t she have felt perfectly at home with them? Then, like my life, I wondered why she never had kids. Nora clearly had some trust issues as a young woman, and I can’t help but think she never had to process those issues as long as she was the postmistress – she was always on the periphery of the community, never really part of it. I’m still thinking about it and am grateful for your blog to read what other women of a certain age thought about it.

    1. Hi, I’m John. In a few months I’ll be sixty and my life is starting to mirror Nora’s to a small degree. I’ve never married nor become a parent (by choice) and now I see myself becoming more distant from my family several states away…and we were not that close anyway. I lost my job at the beginning of the month and now I’m just not sure what to do next. I don’t really have any friends here and I don’t want to stay but I don’t know where to go.
      As for the movie, slice of life movies are my favorite and I’ve added this to my recommendation list. I’ve always loved Karen Allen’s acting and I think this is her best. She makes Nora so real! I’m just not sure if Ella is young Nora. I’m almost convinced but…
      I wish Nora had made a spur of the moment decision to hit the road with a friend or jumped on Amtrak to travel the country but I see how the ending makes sense.
      A movie that is very similar to this (small town residents and a slice of life movie) is Rachel River, made in 1987. It’s practically impossible to find as it has never been released on DVD, but it’s well worth a look if you can find it. Thanks for allowing me to post.

      1. All the best to you as you navigate this moment of big change. As for Rachel River, there are many places that mention it but none actually streaming it. Library apps like Hoopla or Kanopy might be a place to look.

  8. Just saw this the past week. Didn’t expect much after “digging” for something good on streaming services. Oh my gosh!? What the heck? Wasn’t expecting the “forced” deep introspection this movie delivers to the viewer. Been awhile since a movie has had this kind of effect on me. As to Ella and Nora’s identity…it was the green eyes for me. Same character, different time-space. Yeah a little weird in the kitchen scene but to cast a young actor with eye color so close to their costar had to be on purpose. Maybe too much work for today’s audience but I feel the movie let you figure it out if you really were watching. Cool web site to find this discussion.

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