The Myth of Fingerprints (1997)
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I could not hope to make a movie this sincere and beautiful; it achieves in an hour and half more than I could hope to see in a lifetime. Let's hope that Bart Freundlich can top this one.
First of all, some of the relationships don't ring true. That is the case of Mia, the oldest of the girls. We watch as she and Elliott arrive by train while they are involved in a quickie before getting home. This action of being seen in public in such a compromising position, is completely out of character with the Mia we get to see in the scenes that follow. Right after they get to the family home, we get the impression these two are as compatible as oil and vinegar. What is she trying to prove? She goes into town with an attitude of a city slicker, when she meets Cezanne. She reacquaints herself with the boy that had a crush on her, but she has erased from her mind, to the point of appearing this guy was from Mars. This, we didn't buy. Her eventual involvement with Cezanne is something Mia, who hates the rural setting of her youth just doesn't make sense after her haughty demeanor and city ways.
Then there is Warren. He still pines after the loss of Daphne, the beautiful former girlfriend who comes to see him when he gets home. Daphne obviously has not stopped loving Warren, but there is an incident that happened some time before during a party. When she tells Warren about it, it becomes plain he had witnessed the incident, but didn't do anything to stop it from happening.
The seemingly contented parents are also a puzzle. The father, Jake, is an enigma. He is a taciturn man who doesn't interact with his children well. Lena, the mother, seems to know much more than what she led us to believe about her marriage and her relation with Jake.
The acting, in general, is good, no small feat to achieve by someone without much experience under his belt, but Mr. Freundlich succeeds in getting some inspired appearances, especially from Noah Wyle and Julianne Moore. The cast is young and do ensemble work. Hope Davis, Blythe Danner, Arija Baeikis, Michael Vartan, are seen among the supporting cast.
Bart Freundlich showed a promise with this film, and has continued to be among our best young directors since this effort.
I must admit that I think the acting was great, Juliana Moore was amazing and so was Noah Wyle, but what was the point of the sister and the other brother? What was going on with the brothers blonde girlfriend? she was perky and had some personality but it went nowhere... the story was just so slow and - how do I put this? non descript!
If you want to see a film with a dysfunctional family, inappropriate relationships, humour and an answer to the questions posed during the movie, then watch The Family Stone...now THAT'S a movie worth seeing.
I liked the beautiful, sparsely populated Maine setting. James LeGros' off the wall character was the best thing about the film. I would have liked to have seen more of him. And hallelujah, one of my all time favorite actors, Roy Schneider is back in A-list action after being stuck in B-movie hell for so damn long. Noah Wyle and redheaded vixen Julianne Moore dish out good performances as well.
It's not a great film by any stretch of the imagination. Just a surprisingly good one. It could have been a bit longer, maybe the screenplay punched up and it would qualify as great. But kudos all around nonetheless to the cast and filmmakers, they still did themselves proud, baby. This movie is a hidden gem. It wasn't widely seen as it should have been.
Here are our characters.
1. DAD (Roy Scheider) - Dull and silent. When drunk, acts drunk.
2. MOM (Blythe Danner) - Acts like a mom.
3. BIG SISTER (Julianne Moore) - Bitter and annoying. And bitter. A completely unpleasant character...but not even interestingly unpleasant. Just bitter.
4. BIG BROTHER (Noah Wylie) - Cute and bland. Broke up with GIRLFRIEND and acts depressed until he gets back together with her.
5. LITTLE SISTER - Cute, perky, and bland.
6. LITTLE BROTHER - Doesn't do anything. Don't know why he's in the script at all, except as an excuse to write his cute, perky, and bland GIRLFRIEND into the movie.
7. BIG SISTER'S HUSBAND (or maybe BOYFRIEND) - Cute and bland. Bickers with insufferable BIG SISTER.
Well, that's our cast. What do they do? Get together for Thanksgiving and spend a few dinners together, then go home. Meanwhile, the big "conflicts" in the plot include:
1. BIG SISTER acts like a jerk and annoys everyone (including the audience).
2. BIG BROTHER finds out that GIRLFRIEND broke up with him because DAD acted drunk some time ago.
3. All characters search for something to say and do to fill up the screen time, but fail, mostly.
Well, that's our plot. Not much conflict, not much character development. Suddenly, the screen fades to black, then the credits roll. I can't recall a time when I felt LESS involved in a movie than this one. What was the point? To show how bland a family Thanksgiving dinner can be? If that was the goal, then the movie accomplished it, with flying colors.
Very quiet and somber with touches of humor. This is a slow, moody film. Some people will love this, others will hate it. I personally wasn't too thrilled (I found it much too slow and quite a few people left the screening I attended) but I can see why some people like this. It has a great cast and is very well-acted and written. The direction seems a little off though. So, if you're into a quiet, moody study of a family--this is for you. Also it is interesting to watch now for the cast--some of them were unknown when this came out and have gone on to bigger and better things.
There are two great sequences:
The children's' reactions when their parents start to tell them about their sex life and, at one point, one woman sees a huge spider who is killed by her boyfriend. She says, "That was a huge spider! It would have whomped Charlotte's ass!" That line had me giggling for 10 minutes and has never left me--and I saw the film back in 1997!
I am usually able to avoid getting wrapped up in celebrity gossip and such. Sometimes, the widely known reality of who a person is becomes part of the cinematic presence, and in that case I don't feel guilty exploring an off-screen persona. Christina Ricci is the someone like this for me.
But there is another reason to worry about the external life: when it affects the art of a treasure. Julianne Moore is one of our most frighteningly intelligent actresses. I especially appreciate her `folded' acting, which presents several character-related dialogs at once. She - and a very few of her colleagues - lift film to a level that advances the whole society.
In nearly every project she does something interesting, even when the filmmaker is oblivious to the more nuanced spaces available. But not here.
This project is a mess. Yet another `character-driven' group encounter. There are dozens and dozens of these, the first respite of a theatrical mind thinking they know something about cinema. They CAN work, but we need something more than simply walking through damaged lives. This project is somewhere between `Affliction' and `Big Chill,' but where they open lives, this views them remotely. We do have the requisite precious tinkly music. We do have some very stylized exterior shots (very nice) to emphasize opening of issues compared to the claustrophobia of the house.
The template requires a play-with-the-play. In `Chill' it was the video; `On Golden Pond' had the fishing drama. Here is the Rabbit book. Could have been more clumsy, but not by much.
Moore's character had lots of opportunity for the kind of folded projection she's famous for. In another project she would have gone ahead and filled these multiple channels between her presence and us - like say in her Altman projects where he just leaves ALL of that up to the actor. But here, she sticks to what the director intends, and that is depressingly one-dimensional. Community theater stuff.
Why should I care? Well because this thick talent is now her husband. Will it matter? I don't know. I have a database of projects where the director and actor are lovers. Sometimes an intelligent director can lift a mundane actress: as in the Robbins/Sarandon; Welles/Hayworth; Mamet/Pidgeon; Figgis/Burrows; De Palma/Allen; Fellini/Masini; Wenders/Kreuzer; Allen/Keaton-Farrow; Coen/McDormand; Branagh/Thompson; Cameron/Hamilton; Godard/Karina-Wiazemsky; Besson/Jovovich; Burton/Marie; Harlin/Davis pairings. Sometimes it doesn't matter, each just does their own thing (Newman/Woodward and lots of others). A few other effects, but the result is a small number of well-defined outcomes among several dozen such couplings. But there are also cases where the director/lover ruins the actress (Minelli/Garland; Beatty/Christie; Hallstrom/Olin).
What family drama will transpire in Julianne's life? Will it be like this film, in both character (she is a gallery receptionist and a failed artist) and form? Will we lose our champion?
Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 4: Has some interesting elements.
By the way, the title is supposed to come from a Simon & Garfunkel song.
I originally rented this movie to see more of Hope Davis. You see I've been living in a third world country (China) for the last couple of years and the first indie movie I watched upon returning to the good 'ole USA was "Next Stop Wonderland". Anyway to make a long story short, I feel in love with Hope in that movie.
Since I've already wasted a lot of time, I want to sum up my experience with this movie in one line:
Myth of Fingerprints is to the '90's what The Big Chill was for the '80's. I just hope this director will learn to use more/better music like in Big Chill. Good movie soundtracks make the movie "live on".