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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir-scr Dan Harris|
with Sigourney Weaver, Emile Hirsch, Jeff Daniels, Michelle Williams, Kip Pardue, Ryan Donowho, Deirdre O'Connell, Suzanne Santo, Jay Paulson, Luke Robertson, Justin Bond, Kenny Mellman
release US 17.Dec.04, UK 1.Jul.05
Mama's boy: Weaver and Hirsch
There's some intensely strong material in this examination of family ties. And especially forceful performances make it well worth watching, even if it becomes a bit too much at times.
The fragile bond that holds the Travis family together is shattered when their star-swimmer son (Pardue) commits suicide. Teen brother Tim (Hirsch) knows he can never emerge from a dead brother's shadow. Mom (Weaver) struggles even more to hold things together, while Dad (Daniels) drifts further into denial. Tim's grown-up sister Penny (Williams) keeps her perspective simply because she's not living at home. The family seeks meaning in life amid the guilt and grief, but old expectations, secrets and feuds gurgle to the surface.
Scene by scene, this is powerful stuff, and Harris navigates his dense screenplay with a light directorial touch that captures inner emotions and authentic wit. But he really puts his characters through the wringer, piling on theme after theme until there's nothing left untouched--suicide, drugs, teen sex, parent-child issues, alcohol, bullying, money problems, sexuality, serious illness, infidelity, past regrets. It gets completely overwhelming, which is intriguing to watch, but also rather exhausting and artificial.
But the cast is excellent. Hirsch is terrific in the pivotal role; we see most of this through his eyes, and until the clarifying revelations at the end, he's wonderfully enigmatic--a typically introspective teen with issues too big for him to grapple with. Weaver and Daniels are also on peak form, with performances that seamlessly blend comedy and tragedy, brittleness and strength. Their very specific relationships with Tim and each other are vividly outlined and so completely believable that they're often somewhat frightening. And the superb side characters add layers of drama, comedy and energy to exactly the right level (long live Kiki & Herb!).
Even if Harris lays it on a bit thickly, this is a lively and engaging story that only becomes contrived at the very end, when simple explanations and easy catharses tie up all the loose ends far too neatly. Fortunately, the genuine performances, combined with Harris' realistically funny dialog, keep the film from becoming a turgid misery-fest. Well worth a look.
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© 2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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