Inga (Academy award winner Marcia Gay Harden) is a poet. She wants to buy and restore a house she is drawn to that reminds her of her childhood home, but her distant husband Hermann (... See full summary »
CANVAS is an autobiographical story by writer/director Joseph Greco and knowing that fact helps to forgive some of the weaknesses of the film. The story - how a family copes with the presence of paranoid schizophrenia and survives - comes from the heart and is as frank a film about the subject of mental illness as any out there. And for all the inherent tendencies to play it as a soap opera, the overriding effect is one of sharing lives challenged by the presence of a crushing disease.
Mary Marino (Marcia Gay Harden) has been afflicted with paranoid schizophrenia for nearly two years and her disease has affected her marriage to her working husband John (Joe Pantoliano in his best role to date) and her eleven year old son Chris (Devon Gearhart): John misses work to care for Mary and still pay for her mounting hospitalization and medical bills and Chris suffers abuse form his mocking school friends, frequently having to explain away his mother's erratic behavior. Mary paints (therapy) the same scene repeatedly, hears voices, and finally refuses to stay on her meds, a fact that results in her long-term hospitalization in a Psychiatric Hospital. John and Chris continue to love Mary despite the radical changes in their lives and each finds a means of coping: John goes on sick leave to build a sailboat for his wife and son in his backyard (he and Mary met and fell in love on a sailboat), and Chris takes up one of Mary's hobbies - sewing patches on shirts - and finds an audience and acceptance and income at his school. How the father and son survive and conquer their challenge presented by the mental illness of Mary serves to provide the ending to this story.
Each of the actors is excellent, especially Pantoliano. Harden is a solid actress but the script fails to capture the essence of her response to her disease. The film feels disjointed and inconsistent and has holes of undeveloped subplots and lines of thought that keep the movie grounded. But knowing that the story is true encourages the viewer to forgive the flaws and appreciate the tough subject matter that should help every viewer to better understand the effect of mental illness on a family. Grady Harp
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