A look at a seemingly placid New England town that is actually wrought with illicit affairs, crime and tragedy, all told through the lens of Olive, whose wicked wit and harsh demeanor mask a warm but troubled heart and staunch moral center. The story spans 25 years and focuses on Olive's relationships with her husband, Henry, the good-hearted and kindly town pharmacist; their son, Christopher, who resents his mother's approach to parenting; and other members of their community. Written by
Never comfortable to watch, this gem as a story and as a vehicle for incredible performances is not to be missed. The story can be summarized in a very brief exchange between Olive and her husband Henry. The latter, a sucker for greeting cards it seems, buys Olive a simple little card that says "For My Wife". Inside the message is "Simply to say I love you" and his initial as a signature. It's Fathers Day, but he has purchased his wife some flowers and this card. He hands her the card and says "I love you." She reads it and replies "Yes, you do", handing him back both the card and the flowers with dirty garden-stained hands.
This is a dark, dismal, dreary narrative with extreme moments of touching emotion and fleeting happiness. Life for all of the characters in this story is a constant succession of negativity and hopelessness. And Olive is The Queen of the Depressed. Townspeople, too, are for the most part, cantankerous: Henry's initial store clerk; Olive's friend, Bonnie; the high school secretary; a customer standing in line at a pharmacy. Someone peed in all of their cereal. And it is the pathetic,somebody's-gotta-play-the-clown Henry who recommends to a Valium-addicted schizophrenic customer that she buy brighter light bulbs to fend off depression.
The performances are so intricate and under-played. How can playing a depressed person be intricate? Watch Frances McDormand's depiction of Olive. It's a must for any actor, and sheer joy for an audience member. And the supporting cast's performances are no less exemplary. Richard Jenkins as Henry provides phenomenal contrast. He really is the "yang" to Olive's "yin". And it is precisely this complementary distribution in their philosophies of life (as characters) and performances (as actors) that makes this truly one of the most amazing films. However, it is frequently extremely uncomfortable to watch because of the level of negativity we are compelled to watch. There are two scenes (one on a seaside cliff and the other at a piano bar) that are positively creepy but so perfect for the character who is envisioning them, another inhabitant of this Village of the Damned. Are there any happy people in this town? No. Henry and maybe one or two other characters try to cheer things up, but one feels as if they are doomed in their attempts to shed light on the rest.
This drama is sadly sympathetic, and no less pathetic a depiction of a jaundiced relationship than George and Martha in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" The latter is certainly more bombastic than this film, which makes "Olive Kitteridge" even sadder as it is reflected in these lives of quiet desperation.
These are award-winning performances, script, and film. Don't miss it.
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