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dir Daniel Barnz
scr Patrick Tobin
prd Ben Barnz, Mark Canton, Kristin Hahn, Courtney Solomon
with Jennifer Aniston, Adriana Barraza, Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington, Mamie Gummer, Chris Messina, Felicity Huffman, William H Macy, Lucy Punch, Britt Robertson, Evan O'Toole, Misty Upham
release US 31.Dec.14, UK 20.Feb.15
Broken souls: Aniston and Worthington
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
A slightly overworked script makes too much of metaphors, but sensitive direction dodges cliches and an especially solid cast brings raw earthiness to this personal-odyssey drama. This is a film about the impact of repressed emotions, and it packs a very strong punch thanks to a beautifully open-handed performance from Aniston.
After an accident leaves her in chronic physical pain, Claire (Aniston) only makes things worse by wallowing in her sarcastic bitterness. She alienates her husband (Messina), physiotherapist (Gummer) and group counsellor (Huffman), and the only person sticking with her is her assistant/maid Silvana (Barraza). When a member of her group Nina (Kendrick) commits suicide, Claire begins to wonder why she has opted to stay alive. And this crack of curiosity drives her to meet Nina's single-dad widower Roy (Worthington).
Thankfully, this film continually refuses to go where we expect it to. While Claire's matching physical and psychological scars are somewhat obvious, as is her collection of defence mechanisms, her reactions continually catch us off guard. Especially in moments of understated stillness, Aniston hits each note perfectly. She never overplays a scene, bringing out Claire's inner turmoil and quietly taking her to a series of breaking points. She and Barraza also continually surprise in the way they play the complex relationship between Claire and Silvana.
Less effective is the presence of Kendrick as a ghost that's haunting Claire's thoughts. Kendrick plays the scenes well, but muddies the depiction both of Claire's inner journey and her tentative connection with Roy. Worthington matches Aniston's cynicism, although he has less on-screen presence: he's simply a nice guy who's mad at the world. Much smaller roles for Huffman, Macy and Punch add some uneasy texture. Thankfully, the script never pushes any of this, swirling specifically around Claire. Even the title's symbolic cake is relatively subtle.
Essentially, director Barnz lets the audience piece together much of what happens and what has led Claire to this point, which forces us to get involved. We may not be clear on why these people are such a mess, but we can tell that underneath her shattered exterior Claire is a smart, tough woman who doesn't yet know that she wants to move forward with her life. This is a strong image for anyone who knows how it feels to have their life ripped away from them, and it might even give some people a flicker of hope.
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© 2015 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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