Documentaries are a powerful genre of films. They can educate and entertain, be deeply personal while telling a very specific story. Packed in a Trunk: the Lost Art of Edit Lake Wilkinson is a very brief, one hour and 17 minute documentary that is never particularly moving even when telling someone’s deeply personal story. This movie feels solely designed for its subject, not necessarily for a wide audience.
Jane Anderson, the director of The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio and Emmy Award winning writer of Olive Kitteridge, is front and center of Packed in a Trunk. Her great aunt was Edith Lake Wilkinson, an artist who was committed to an asylum in 1924. Once she was committed, it’s as if she never existed. She was never heard from again and all traces of her work disappeared. Anderson refused to accept this as her great aunt’s legacy. She talks to anyone who could help her find Aunt Edith’s art or provide any insight into who she was as a person. Along her journey, Anderson finds out that she had a great deal in common with her great aunt.
While watching Packed in a Trunk, I kept thinking of a recent documentary I was lucky enough to write about for this very site – Thank You For Playing, which told the story of a family’s devastating situation and how they dealt with losing their youngest son. There was a universal message within that film which translated into a deeply affecting film.
Packed in a Trunk doesn’t have that same effect. This was a very personal journey for Anderson and when she gets some answers, we are pleased for her. The only problem is, her journey is a bit alienating because we aren’t the ones searching for artifacts of a family member. Director Michelle Boyaner could have focused her film a little more and used the 77 minute runtime a little more effectively. Packed in a Trunk feels a bit wobbly when trying to tell a cohesive story.
Verdict: 2 out of 5
Packed in a Trunk has an interesting story at its core but is a film for Jane Anderson not so much a wide audience. We feel for her once she gets some answers but aren’t riveted along her journey.