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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Saw this film when it was an entry in Santa Fe Film Festival. Heavy
film! Depiction of a completely dysfunctional family taken to another
level of the extreme, might have left me depressed to the extreme, had
it not been for very funny sight gags and dialogue along the way which
lightened the film's overall tone. The relatively "uplifting" ending
gave hope for those affected by the initial tragedy. Still, I did not
walk out of the theatre ready to go to a fun party. The film stayed
with me for several days.
Brought back memories of "Ordinary People", but with humor mixed in with the tragedy. I thought the acting was excellent, especially by Sigourney Weaver and Emile Hirsh. How each character dealt with the tragedy was at times sad, self-defeating, but also at times hilarious. Clever dialogue, and situations.
This film is chock-full of little surprises, many of them funny. The
fact that it's written and directed by a 24-year old blows my mind.
Some of the scenes where the high school kids are using ecstasy made me
very uncomfortable because I have a kid that age and I could picture
her using it. As parent of a teen, I found the depictions of the
parent-child interactions to be dead-on accurate.
I enjoyed the film's many little jokes, and I enjoyed the fact that not everything made perfect sense and not all the issues were resolved by the end. To paraphrase Mark Twain, truth is stranger than fiction, because fiction is required to stick to that which is possible, while truth is not.
This is a film which plays with the viewer, allowing us believe that people are what other people think they are, only to allow us later to realize that the folks we assumed were right were completely ignorant of the real situation. One of the film's strongest scenes, a scene about which we feel very relieved and sympathetic about what the character is doing, turns out to be based on a completely wrong assumption, and the character, while admirable, is totally wrong. It's very subtly done, I think. Very realistic.
I liked the score a lot -- I thought it really aided the film, really helped set the mood -- the film has a couple of screwball moments, and the background music helps establish that.
The valedictorian speech is a hoot and a half -- got a big laugh! The movie is really in my head right now -- saw it this morning. Will try to see it again, time allowing. Tens are hard to come by, but a solid nine in my book.
This film is a powerful commentary on family life in North America
today. The story is so well constructed, it almost feels like its
happening across the street, right now! If you are connected with your
family and community in any way, this film will grab you and transport
you to the Travis' home and not allow you to leave until the credits
Our imaginary heroes, through a myriad of innocent circumstances, often unwittingly, lead us down a path of sorrow, confusion and isolation. The Travis family, after a terrible tragedy, invite each of us; father, mother, brother and sister, into their respective lives to share their experience in a dynamic set of circumstances that just doesn't quit. We see all of the above and eventually the joy, in powerful performances by the major players and the rest of the cast, making this film a movie-goers absolute treasure.
In a film so well done as this, it is usually difficult to to find something special, but Sigourney Weaver's portrayal of Sandy Travis was outstanding. I would be surprised if others didn't recognize it as such.
Clearly a 10. Well done!
Wow. When I went to this film at the Toronto film festival I had no idea what I was in for. This movie takes you on an emotional roller-coaster in the best sense of the term. Sigourney Weaver was better than I've seen from her in years; Emile Hirsch was great and Jeff Daniels broke my heart. I can see how this won't be every person's cup of tea, as at times it deals with some pretty harsh things that can happen to a family. Don't get me wrong -- it's really funny too -- at my screening the audience burst out in applause after laughing over and over again. I just think if you're open to examining your own life, Imaginary Heroes will sincerely touch you. I can't wait until it comes out in theaters.
Imaginary Heroes is clearly the best film of the year. It was a
complete and utter joy to watch. I was riveted. The whole audience up
at the Sunset Five was riveted, when the film ended no one moved,
spoke, nothing. I think this film is a perfect example of the of the
power that drama has. Especially in so much as it sets an example of
the quality of drama/ work of this younger generation.
There were moments in your film, many, like at least seven, where I was struck by such a great amount of beauty, emotional beauty, that I actually couldn't breathe for a while. And for a catharsis junkie like me, that's about the best censorial experience I could ask for. It is the result of powerful, masterful storytelling and direction. Like heavyweight stuff, like Burtolucci and those guys.
Each element of the film fit tightly together. There were no missteps at all. The cast was amazing. I have been a huge fan of Emile's and Ryan's for a long time, and I thought they have never been better. I was/am/will be continuously stunned by this film. And I promise I will drag every person I know to see it. It should be seen. It should win awards.
IMAGINARY HEROES (2004) **1/2 Sigourney Weaver, Emile Hirsch, Jeff
Daniels, Michelle Williams, Kip Pardue, Deirdre O'Connell, Ryan
Donowho, Suzanne Santo, Jay Paulson, Luke Robertson. (Dir : Dan Harris)
"Ordinary People" Meets "American Beauty" by way of "The Ice Storm"
Just what is it about the suburbs that have been portrayed as an American cousin to Norway's fjords in which nothing but despair, suicidal tendencies and infidelities run rampant at the corner of Angst and Anomie?
In the latest endeavor by Harris, a screenwriter who shared credit for the first "X-Men" film and several other comic book hero adaptations down the pike, makes his directorial debut questioning just that: Why does a family fall completely apart when a serious crisis occurs?
Well in the case of the Travis family it is the shocking, out-of-nowhere sudden horrific suicide by their eldest son Matt (Pardue), a star athlete with nothing but a bright, shiny future ahead who inexplicably offs himself sending his relatives into a whirlwind of emotions (and lack of to boot). Sharp tongued yet surprisingly loving mother Sandy (Weaver, the best thing about the film) resorts to smoking marijuana when she's not dodging the next door neighbor (O'Connell) ; ineffectual father Ben (Daniels in the trickiest performance making an asshole likable) whose undying love for his dead son sends him into the deepest depths of depression and lashes out at his remaining brood; college age sister Penny (Williams) who attempts to anchor her grief in brief return visits only to party with blinders on and namely middle son Tim (Hirsch) who just is trying to move on with the whole affair and not dwelling on it as best he can yet still getting himself into a series of situations leading to a fall he may not be able to recover from.
The black comic pitch Harris attempts to filter into the various stages of grief are a mixed bag but often leave their marks of ridiculous moments of suburban oddness with a few brief elements of genuine loss and heartbreak. Leavened with a good dose of humor the film none-the-less is a listless addition to the quasi -genre of suburban angst films.
It is hard to judge 'Imaginary Heroes' without referring to the fact
that director and script writer Dan Harris is only 25. You can hardly
believe seeing this film, which is not only a mature piece of work,
professional and deep, but also with some of the defects of routine
specific to older directors.
The setting is the American suburb, too familiar from 'American Beauty' or 'Desperate Housewives'. As in 'American Beauty'the film turns around a suicide, but here it happens at the beginning of the movie, and we are left watching a mid-class family coping with the death of the gifted sportsman brother and son. Emile Hirsch plays the younger brother, Sigourney Weaver is the mother, both are excellent trying to cope with the loss, to find the reason and motivation to survive. Harris drives his actors with a sure hand, and the first two sections of the film (there are four in total, as the seasons of the year) build a wonderful tension, with credible dilemmas and real questions. It is the second part of the film that disappoints slightly, it looks too tired and conventional, and I suspect that the producers may have interfered in the work of the young script-writer and director, trying to bring him closer to the Hollywood convention. That's how this film fails to be a somber version of 'American Beauty', with a different focus. I am sure however that we will hear a lot about Dan Harris in the coming years.
The Kinks warned about media heroes. Outside the movies, most heroes are also "Ordinary People." Society demands some role playing, but what happens when that extends to the parent-child relationship? Do some parents try to improve themselves through their children rather than vice versa? How do you provide a role-model but not a role? A brilliant swimmer who hates to swim; a brilliant musician who won't play. Offbeat, funny (despite depiction of "serious" problems), very good multi-dimensional acting by everyone. Lots of plot twists complement the emotional tension. Celluloid heroes never feel any pain. I don't recall ever being disappointed in a Sigourney Weaver film (I even liked "The Village"!).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It occurred to me while watching "Imaginary Heroes" that any
screenwriter attempting to make a drama about family relationships
should seriously consider killing off a kid or two in the opening reel
as a way of getting his characters to open up and reveal themselves.
There must be something to this storyline, for it seems as if every
other family drama that comes down the pike uses this device in one
form or another ("Paradise" and "Moonlight Mile" are just two of the
more recent examples that spring immediately to mind, although one
could reach back to a golden oldie like "Who's Afraid of Virginia
Woolf?" to make the point as well). It's not that the death of a child
is an illegitimate subject for serious films to explore. Far from it.
It's just that, like any topic, it can be so overused that it becomes
just another movie cliché, a convenient bit of narrative shorthand to
get the ball rolling and to give the characters something to grapple
with for the remainder of the time we get to spend with them.
The latest such work is "Imaginary Heroes," a film that borrows heavily from what is one of the earliest and, perhaps, best known examples of the "family coping with the death of a child" genre, the Academy Award winning "Ordinary People." Like the characters in that earlier film, the Travises seem, on the surface, to be the ideal suburban family, until, one fateful day, their oldest son, Matt, who is the "golden boy" athlete and, thus, the apple of his father's eye, kills himself with no explanation (one minor difference is that the son in "Ordinary People" dies as a result of an accident, not a suicide). It is Matt's younger brother, Tim, who winds up finding the body, and who assumes the role of protagonist in the film. Each of the remaining family members copes with the tragedy in his or her own way. Matt, who has always lived in the shadow of his older brother, becomes more and more estranged from the father who has virtually ignored him all his life and begins to turn to drugs for surcease. Ben, the father, becomes swallowed up in feelings of remorse and guilt, turning away from both his job and his family. His wife, Sandy, is the most complex character in the film, a free-spirited child of the '60's who feels oddly adrift in the role of mother and wife as she endures a basically loveless marriage in sterile suburbia. She spends most of her time after the tragedy trying to reconnect with her pot-smoking past.
As written and directed by Dan Harris, "Imaginary Heroes" emerges as a wildly uneven film. For every scene that feels real and authentic, there is another that comes across as arbitrary and inauthentic. One sometimes has the sense that Harris would like to cram every possible life situation he can think of into his screenplay, an admirable goal, perhaps, but one that makes the film unnecessarily melodramatic in the process. Instead of identifying with the characters and being caught up in their plight, we often find ourselves thinking, "Oh, come now what next?" For teen suicide is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the hot-button topics covered in this film; the screenplay also touches on drug and alcohol abuse, physical abuse, sexual identity conflict, life-threatening illness, even inadvertent gay incest. It is this "everything but the kitchen sink" mentality in the writing that robs the movie of much of the credibility it needs to really make us care.
That is not to say that "Imaginary Heroes" is a bad or unrewarding film. Much of what it has to say about familial relationships and values in the 21st Century is insightful, original, pointed and profound. Prime credit for its success goes to the actors, Emile Hirsch, Sigourney Weaver and Jeff Daniels, who deliver incisive, sensitive performances in their respective roles. It is they who triumph over the narrative excesses to stimulate our brains and touch our hearts. Moreover, Harris, in his direction, achieves an effectively melancholic tone throughout, but one that is frequently augmented by some badly-needed flashes of daring dark comedy.
"Imaginary Heroes" may appear unfocused and derivative at times, but its fine performances and subtle mood shifts make it a film worth watching.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As Salinger's "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" ends with the suicide of a
prodigy, this movie opens with the death of the star high school
swimmer legend, Matt, who shoots himself in the head with a revolver
after in the opening scene. But the death of Matt Travis serves as a
key to unlock the door of another prodigy, his brother, Tim who never
in his life seriously bothered with the question, "What am I going to
When he finds his brother dead, his head broken like a dropped watermelon, the Travis family starts vomiting out its secrets one by one. The film focuses on Tim. He is a victim of bullying, domestic abuse, family alienation, heartbreak, issues of sexuality and friendship.
Tim reveals his wounds by physical bruises, but these are not the only injuries to his person, as we slowly come to realize, as the script painfully unveils the origins and outcome of Tim scars. Everyone who loves him hurts him. Hirsch plays out the character quite well, revealing frame after frame in the visual expression of his body, a host of conflicting emotions inside the soul of a kid whom no one seems to listen to or know very well, unknowing and unaware of his depth of soul and prodigious talent.
Two siblings sharing a doobie, curled up on a red, spinnable playground saucer, Tim asks Penny, "What am I going to do with the rest of my life?" The scene is framed in a familiar, recurring image of the film: the comfortable playground where Tim obviously feels at home, filmed from a bird's eye view, because with every character Tim feels comfortable to share a part of himself, and we view these intimate moments he shares in the red, spinnable playground saucer, complete with childish graffiti carved in pencil, from above. After advising him curtly to pass the joint, Penny tells him, "Tim, well, the secret to the success of life is to find something you love. And you have to do that for the rest of your life And you better hope to hell that you're good at it because if you're not then you'll probably fail." This simple line of advice from Penny serves as the movie's central theme, the responsibility of talent and the possibility of failure. Why does one person have a talent he cannot stand, like Matt, who hated the attention his swimming fame brought, but no one notices Tim's talent no one because no one bothers to ask him? Not even us. The film makes us aware that we ourselves do not know Tim as well as we thought we did when we first meet this handsome, sad, guy; in our intimate understanding of Tim, as it progresses, we are reminded that not everyone is as they seem to be. This is the other side of the film, the failure of those who should parents, friends, teachers whoever to notice and see the gifts of the people they claim to love. Not even his mother Sandy, played by Sigourney Weaver, sees Tim's gift, despite her love for her son. Weaver does a deft job of a middle-aged woman grappling with her own inner demons as she haphazardly tries to play the roles of domesticity and support. When Tim is found to be bullied at school, she storms the boy's trailer, threatening his life, "You can tease, torture, punch, drive drunk with me, I can forgive you. Hell I can understand it, I'm a good Christian, you know, I can forgive and forget, but you mess with my kid and may God himself descend from heaven to protect you because as long as I live and I will outlive you all I will wake up and go to sleep at night just dreaming of ways to make your petty insignificant lives into hell on earth." After flicking a paper cup into the mother's face, she looks around the trailer, and looking at them both, the kid and his stunned mother, comments, "nice trailer" and leaves as quickly as she came. Weaver scores in her ability to match gusto with visceral wit that is acid and witty. And Tim's father, played by Jeff Daniels, is blind to who his son is, treating him like a stranger, not telling his family that he took time off from the office, spending his days in the city park, listless, a carved out soul, and sleeping in Matt's bed, tucked in with his high school letter jacket. Jeff Daniels does a superb job of making us believe that he can be both a bastard and lovable because, we grow to see that even an inept father can show his love for his son. In an emotional scene, Tim confronts his father. Just when you think his dad is going to hit him, he grabs for him to embrace him. Not letting him go, he tells Tim, "I am your father and you're are my son and I'm here okay but you've gotta talk to me. I don't know how to do this by myself". It is here at this moment in the film that a father tells his son, you have to tell me what's going on inside of you, you have to tell me who you are; I want to know who you are. It is in this scene that the film reaches a cathartic moment, the visual movement from Tim, angry and alone, to his father embracing him as he breaks downs and weeps, revealing the emotions hidden beneath his shell. Tim experiences this moment of cleansing with his dad as a catharsis, especially when you consider the mistreatment, manipulation, disregard, violence and betrayal he has been dealt in the long year the film encompasses. I recommend this film.
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