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Fails at the screenplay level; poor dialogue and a terrible closing scene
`AfterLife' is about a somewhat arrogant, reasonably wealthy man who discovers that his mother is dying, and finds himself looking after his sister, who has Down's Syndrome. He can't be bothered with her, and basically just wants to get her off his hands; he has better things to do. At one point he finds that he has to take her, by car (she doesn't like flying) across the country.
If that all sounds familiar to you, it is probably because you have seen `Rainman,' a film far superior to its imitator, `AfterLife.' That it copies the basic premise (heck, it nicks a few characters and even scenes too) is not the fundamental problem with the film. The fundamental problem is that I did not care about these characters.
The brother, Kenny (Kevin McKidd), is a bit of a womaniser. He has a girlfriend who comes and goes in the story, and who learns to like the Down's Syndrome sister (again, this is taken from `Rainman'). He is a journalist, trying to get an interview with a doctor who is facing a scandal. When he ends up looking after Roberta, the sister, he doesn't have much time for her, and sometimes leaves her alone for a little too long. When she wanders off, he becomes even angrier towards her. Am I spoiling anything by saying that he becomes a nicer, loving person by the end of the film?
Roberta is not determined to be 'normal'; she is 'normal,' and wishes people would stop treating her differently. She is played by Paula Sage, an actress who does have Down's Syndrome, and her performance is easily the best thing about the film; why did the screenwriter not explore her character more? Well, probably because that would mean the characters would get in the way of the story. When we surely already know the story anyway, didn't the filmmakers see the problem they were creating?
For a film about a dying mother and her handicapped daughter (the father is absent; I think he is dead, but I'm not sure), it is surprising how little impact the film has on the emotions of the viewer. The scenes are performed in such a standard, dull way, with such standard, predictable dialogue, that I found myself rolling my eyes.
I have nothing against sentimentality in films, but it only really works if you care about the characters. Here the characters are so uninteresting and two-dimensional that I didn't really think there was much to care about. `Rain Man' has an emotional climax, but that moved me, because I cared about the characters.
Talking of climaxes, this film has a stinker. There is sequence at the end of the film that starts off as an unbelievable situation and ends up in even worse territory; an unforgivably cruel trick is played on the audience. The sequence is designed to move the audience, but ends up being horribly manipulative and offending the intelligence of the viewer. Audiences aren't stupid, and they know when the film is cheating. What a cheap shot.
There is not one scene in this film that has the impact it should. There are a few sequences that are funny, yes, but when the characters talk to each other, I can practically see the screenplay in front of me, moving predictably and uninterestingly, never hitting anything that touches the mind or the heart. There are those phoney arguments that are reserved especially for the movies, where the other character knows exactly what the reply is. Why don't supposedly 'realistic' films not realise that, in real life, anger can be irrational, and sometimes people can't express their emotions, and they might say things that don't make sense, or not be able to say anything at all? All of the actors in this film deserve better material. This film is not based on fact, but I think a documentary on a family with a Down's Syndrome member would be much more interesting. That way, we might have had truth and emotion. For some reason the characters in this film think that an emotion only involves saying something loudly and making a suitable facial expression.
** (out of 5)
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