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dir James Ponsoldt
scr James Ponsoldt, Susan Burke
prd Jennifer Cochis, Andrea Sperling
with Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Nick Offerman, Octavia Spencer, Megan Mullally, Mary Kay Place, Kyle Gallner, Bree Turner, Mackenzie Davis, Patti Allison, Richmond Arquette, Natalie Dreyfuss
release US 12.Oct.12, UK 14.Dec.12
Hair of the dog: Paul and Winstead
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
Filmmaker Ponsoldt makes a fundamental mistake with this harrowing drama, telling a story about alcoholism rather than about people whose lives are affected by substance abuse. As a result, it's difficult to believe in or care about where the story goes, no matter how nicely shot and acted it is.
When schoolteacher Kate (Winstead) vomits in front of her first-grade class, she lets them believe that she's pregnant. But the truth is that she's badly hungover. Which makes this morning fairly typical after yet another drinking binge with her husband Charlie (Paul). But her guilt is piqued when a colleague (Offerman) covers for her and her boss (Mullally) plans a baby shower. And more messy nights spur her to she join AA, getting help from sponsor Jenny (Spencer). Then her newfound sobriety makes her wonder if she can stay with the still-drunken Charlie.
Since the story starts with Kate at rock bottom, there's plenty of potential here. But Ponsoldt simplistically makes alcohol itself the villain. No one can be "the kind of people who have a glass of wine with dinner": they're either messy drunks or pontificating teetotallers. Kate's problem stems back to her heavy-drinking mother (Place), while Charlie's has to do with his wealthy parents. But in the real world, we know that easy explanations like this are merely superficial, so we never believe the film's central thesis.
Despite the thinly defined characters, most of the acting is solid. Winstead is riveting when Kate is sober, finding layers of steely emotion. But when Kate's drunk, the performance turns showy. Meanwhile, Paul finds interesting textures as the usually drunk Charlie. And Place creates the most complex character in just one awkward scene. The problem is that Ponsoldt doesn't seem interested in these people: he just wants to talk about how alcohol can destroy a life and a relationship.
At least there are moments of hope along the way, even if they feel over-scripted. And several scenes are devastatingly nasty, augmented by the gorgeously natural-lit cinematography. But the script leaves out key connective tissue in the plot while taking an eerily black-and-white approach to the topic. This gives us with nothing to think about, which is almost unforgivable in a film about such an important issue.
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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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