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dir Gus Van Sant
scr Jason Lew
prd Brian Grazer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ron Howard
with Henry Hopper, Mia Wasikowska, Ryo Kase, Jane Adams, Schuyler Fisk, Lusia Strus, Chin Han, Kelleen Crawford, Victor Morris, Colton Lasater, Kyle Leatherberry, Jesse Henderson
release US 16.Sep.11, UK 21.Oct.11
11/US Columbia 1h31
Soulmates: Wasikowska and Hopper
CANNES FILM FESTIVAL
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
Van Sant returns to his earthy-airy style for this story of a young man coming to terms with the concept of mortality. It's effortlessly honest, with edgy humour balancing the dark themes. Although it's also diluted by commercial sensibilities.
After his parents are killed in a car crash, the thoughtful young Enoch (Hopper) becomes obsessed with death, attending random funerals and chatting to Hiroshi (Kase), the ghost of a young kamikaze pilot. The at one memorial service, Enoch is rumbled by Annabel (Wasikowska), who pursues a friendship with him. As they become closer, Enoch learns that the sparky Annabel has a fatal illness, which means he can no longer put off dealing with the fact that death is actually part of life.
Beautifully shot by Harris Savides, the film has a warm, cluttered real-life look that immediately disarms us. Despite the premise, we're certainly not in syrupy Nicholas Sparks territory; Van Sant tells the story without dipping into sentimentality, letting awkward interaction draw us in so we can sympathise with characters who cope with big issues in bracingly truthful ways. And there's nothing simplistic about any of them; even side roles for Adams (as Enoch's aunt-guardian) and Fisk (as Annabel's protective big sister) are a bundle of compassion and fear.
Hopper (son of Dennis) has a terrific screen presence that holds our attention from the start. He may be slightly too beautiful, but he has a compelling inner life that conveys Enoch's teen fragility and resilience. But then we can't take our eyes off Wasikowska, who delivers yet another magnetic performance packed with unexpected emotion and offhanded humour. It's easy to believe that Annabel would shake up Enoch's life. And their more tender scenes together are beautifully played.
So it's a little frustrating that the film tries so hard to be quirky and cute, with a Danny Elfman score and indie songs that are almost painfully hip. There's also a slightly pushy message that feels tacked on by a nervous Hollywood studio chief ("We have so little time to say the things we mean") who doesn't trust the otherwise tentative, subtle approach to a powerful theme. Because that's what makes this film essential viewing.
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© 2011 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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