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This mess makes you long to revisit Redford's "Ordinary People"
This wretched psychodrama uses every shabby device in the book to wheedle attention and sympathy from us for its characters, who, with one exception, are not worthy of any notice at all, let alone two precious hours of filmgoers' time.
As in Robert Redford's "Ordinary People" (a superb film that, in comparison, clearly shows up the vacuity of "Heroes"), a late teenage boy has died, leaving his family in the throes of bereavement. In this case, the death was a suicide, an event that nearly always poisons the emotional well of the survivors in a particularly corrosive way. We follow these people over the next 8 or 9 months.
The father (Jeff Daniels) becomes a withdrawn, virtually mute, usually drunken stiff who secretly takes leave from his job for months, sits instead on a park bench all day, and insists on setting a full plate of food at the deceased son's place for every meal. He treats everyone else in the family with unerring nastiness. He sees his doctor regularly but the issue of therapeutic intervention in his obviously dysfunctional state never comes up.
The mother (Sigourney Weaver) yells at the neighbor woman, among others, gets busted when she stupidly tries to buy "marijuana" (her term) at a head shop (what adult in reality would ever try such a dumb stunt?), and, near the end, swoons into coma with a lung condition that everyone in the theater assumes is cancer (she's a heavy smoker). Ms. Weaver has a few flip lines but generally behaves too unintelligently to merit much empathy.
It's not that there aren't people out there who behave in these silly ways when severely stressful circumstances arise. But why make a film of such drivel? What can anyone learn from this pair's conduct?
The deceased's older sister (Michelle Williams) is away at college and all too happy to distance herself from the family zoo. The younger brother (played by Emile Hirsch) is the only credible member of the family. His suffering is genuine, its causes multifold, and his conduct is coherent within the circumstances. But Hirsch's character is too soft spoken, too morose and beaten down, to carry the movie. The other bit players, subtexts and cutesy, unreal dialogue don't help.
The suicide theme is echoed in an almost nonchalant manner in the case of two other minor characters. So what is the writer-director, Dan Harris, trying to say about this subject? That it isn't a serious matter? Why Jeff Daniels agreed to play the sap of a father as written in this screenplay is something only his therapist might possibly be able to answer. Avoid this dog. Instead rent Redford's classic. My rating: 4/10 (C-). (Seen on 2/17/05). If you'd like to read more of my reviews, send me a message for directions to my websites.
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