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David Michael Latt
Eriq La Salle,
In Los Angeles, a story about a dead girl, told in five chapters. A woman, miserable in her circumscribed life caring for her domineering mother, finds a body. Somehow, this discovery allows her to change. At the morgue, the sister of a girl missing for 15 years believes the body is that of her sister; this liberates her. An older woman, married to a man who pays her little attention, finds evidence in a storage unit; how will she handle it? The mother of the dead girl, who left home some years before, visits the last place her daughter lived and makes her own discoveries. Last, we flash back to the victim's final day. Written by
A truly phenomenal work. The film is separated into five different stories, and each one is intricately detailed and each one is led by a poignant female performance. I can't rave about this enough. Every story is so beautiful in their own way. I must say that I greatly preferred the style of showing each story in it's entirety and then moving onto the next one, instead of continuing the tradition of the swarm of these ensemble films with very different characters linked by a small event that we've been seeing this decade. It showed some great originality to cut the stories into five different, linked short films instead of mashing them all together and just showing pits and pieces of each story.
The entire concept of the film is remarkable. How one, very unfortunate, death can be the new beginning of seven others. The end of one life leads to the reawakening, or liberation, of seven others. Such a phenomenal concept that was executed flawlessly. That alone makes it something brilliant, in my eyes, but then each story is filled with such strong symbolism and metaphors. One example of symbolism could be the color contrast in Leah's story. At the beginning there is just steely blues and greys to represent her dull, isolated life. But then, once she goes to Derek's party, there is life and vibrant color seen all around (the shining lights in the background and even the lights of the swingset). It's a truly beautiful scene.
Every character is so rich and deep and bring out every kind of sympathy I could ever feel. The ending of most stories is formed with a strong scene of liberation and change, that put a big smile to my face. Ruth's story isn't this way though in which we see a stunning scene of her realizing the horrible man that her husband is, but in almost an act of defiance, she shuts her eyes to his evil deeds. And of course Krista's ending has no liberation or freedom. Instead it's one of the most heartbreaking experiences of my life. We see this sweet adorable character light with joy, thinking that she is going to see her daughter on her birthday. But we know her eventual fate, and that she will never meet her daughter. It brought such tears to my eyes.
The performances really blew me away. I was expecting them to be good, but not some of the best of the year. Even Marcia Gay Harden, my least favorite actress, turns in a strong, subtle and emotional work compared to her usual whiny-annoying fare. James Franco really needs more chances to shine, because he is one of the most underrated actors around. He completely transforms his strong, hulky build into an adorable geeky character that makes it easy to see why he brings Leah out of her deep depression. I have to highlight the phenomenal work from Giovanni Ribisi and Rose Byrne in two of my absolute favorite performances of last year. Exceptional doesn't even begin to describe the brilliance of their work. They both get resounding nominations from me, and the film is one of the five best of last year.
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