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Evan keeps to himself, almost without affect. He's 30, a former foster child, living alone, writing suicide notes for people. He attends a client's funeral and meets Charlotte, the client's sister. She pursues Evan; he's silent about his real work and invents a friendship with the brother. About the same time, Evan starts working with Abel, a new client, a composer of phone-waiting music who's depressed. Evan confides in Abel about Charlotte as she begins to draw him out. Crises await the self-contained Evan: his relationship with Charlotte is based on a lie, and his incipient friendship with Abel is headed toward suicide. Are more dead ends ahead? Written by
This is the finest comedy/drama I've seen in a couple of years, and it has the most satisfying ending I've ever seen. The film stars Wes Bentley (ironically, Haley shot the famous videotape of the plastic bag that Bentley shows to Thora Birch in "American Beauty") as Evan, who is a professional author of suicide notes. He meets with his clients, gets a sense of what they want, then asks them to keep a journal of their thoughts for a few weeks, after which Evan produces a poetic, client-customized suicide note for the soon-to-be-departed. He has become so prolific that one of his clients won a national poetry prize for Evan's note; the ever-mordant Evan is quick to add that the prize was, of course, awarded posthumously.
Evan estimates that 30% of his clients actually kill themselves; one who does is a young man named Matt Morris. When Evan attends Matt's funeral---he often attends the graveside service to evaluate the effect of his note on those in attendance---, Matt's sister Charlotte (Winona Ryder) follows him out of the service and asks him if he was a friend of her brother's. Evan lies that he went to Cornell with Matt, and soon he and Charlotte are dating. Trouble ensues when Evan eats dinner at Charlotte's house with the whole surviving family firing questions at him.
Meanwhile, we meet Evan's newest client, Abel (an excellent Ray Romano), an acerbic misanthrope with a death wish. They develop an unlikely bond, and there are some extremely touching (and hilarious) exchanges between the two as they work on Abel's farewell (in one such conversation, Abel, encouraging Evan to pursue Charlotte, tells him to buy her a puppy: "Girls love puppies. They're like heroin with fur!").
Things get complicated between Evan and Charlotte as he has must go to increasingly absurd lengths to conceal his true occupation and the real reason that he knew her brother. I won't reveal any more of the plot, because this is a ride truly to be enjoyed by the moviegoer.
Bentley fulfills the promise he showed in "American Beauty." He manages to imbue his characteristic monotone and piercing gaze with enough hints of emotion to reveal the depths of grief churning below his icy surface. Romano shows surprising dramatic range while retaining his trademark wit; it will be interesting to see if he continues to try to stretch his acting range. (On a side note, he admitted in the post-film Q&A that his psychiatrist reads the script before Romano will commit to any project.) Ryder is the only weak link here. She does a competent job, her doe eyes signaling the hurt over her brother's death that is only worsened by Evan's seeming callousness, but her acting doesn't rise to the level of her co- stars. Thankfully, it is really Bentley and Romano's film, and they make the most of it.
This is an astounding first feature from Haley, who wrote the screenplay in his trailer during breaks while lensing the final season of "Six Feet Under." Although he hasn't yet struck a distribution deal, potential buyers in yesterday's audience could not ignore the thunderous ovation that met the closing credits. Go see this one when it comes out in a theater near you, which it will. You won't be disappointed.
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