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Mary Kay Place,
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Eddie Kaye Thomas,
Frances had been a radio DJ in Florida; she's now living in San Francisco and dying of cancer, with one son living nearby whose work as a photographer is beginning to take off and another, mostly estranged, living in London. She makes a trip to rural Pennsylvania to visit an old lover (and his wife). Meanwhile, Rebecca is searching for her birth mother, who is, of course, Frances. Their lives intersect in other unexpected ways as her search and her work, inspecting the books of radio stations being acquired, progress.Written by
Jon Reeves <email@example.com>
Christopher Munch has written and directed only three films, not one of which ever received commercial distribution. Obviously, if you want "commercial" easy watching, his movies are not for you. A viewer can have a tough time finding his movies, but maybe that's OK, because once seen, they can haunt you for years. He makes a different sort of film than the easy to find shoot-em-down-and-blow-em-up product that, once seen, can barely be recalled a week later. When I see a film by Christopher Munch, I think (as I also do after movies by Abel Ferrara or Claire Denis), "This is what celluloid is for." Look, I love a good car chase as much as the next guy, but some types of human experience require more than machinery to chase down. Munch is a cinematic poet of unfulfilled longing, but unfulfilled longing is not a subject that lends itself to tidy reconciliations and happy endings. "The Sleepy Time Gal" is all about the lives we might wish for, but will not have. If that sounds sad, it is. But surprisingly, it's not bleak the way you might expect, because Munch also shows us characters whose lives contain riches that they do not see themselves. Munch's main character, Frances (played with aching beauty and regret by Jacqueline Bisset) is a dying woman who, as she tells her doctor, has not finished her life. Too bad for her. She only sees what she has not achieved in her life. However, her lovers and we the viewers in the audience see that her beauty and her lust for life have enriched those around her in ways that she cannot recognize, perhaps because the experiences have not been comparably enriching for her. In a sense, she gives what she has not received. This sounds more sentimental than it is in the movie. There is no sentimentality in this movie. For one thing, the main character is not easy to like. She's a woman with rough edges and few illusions about the joys of parenting or the permanence of love. For another, the relationships among parents and children here are all complicated. There are no simple loves, no simple hatreds, and all the connections are difficult. For just these reasons, the relationships are completely believable. The movie has what might be the most realistic deathbed scene I've ever seen in a film. The film was shot by Rob Sweeney, who also shot Munch's previous film, "The Color of a Brisk and Leaping Day," one of the most beautifully photographed films I've seen in the last decade. This movie too contains frame after frame of richly textured compositions that never devolve into prettiness. Munch is not a linear storyteller. The complicated relationships in the movie unfold indirectly through scenes that seem initially unrelated. The varied visual textures in the cinematography help differentiate the different times and places in which we see the characters. I've only seen Nick Stahl in a few things, but the more I see of him, the more I'm impressed with his versatility. He's the manipulative Bully in Larry Clark's film of that title, and the naive, doomed every-boy of "In the Bedroom." Here he plays Bisset's son, and he's just as believable as a sensitive guy finding the strength to make his own way in the world without abandoning his assertive (and not entirely loving) mother. Altogether, this movie maps the rocky shoals of ambiguous family relationships as well as any I've seen. If you want "entertainment," skip this. If you want "easy" watching, skip this. If you want tidy emotional resolutions, skip this. But if you're up for a visually gorgeous, subtly acted reflection of the skips and stumbles that comprise most of our emotional lives, check this out.
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