dir Anna Mastro
scr Paul Shoulberg
prd Mark Holder, Christine Holder, Brenden Patrick Hill, Ryan Harris, Benito Mueller
with Andrew J West, Virginia Madsen, William H Macy, Justin Kirk, Peter Facinelli, Neve Campbell, Leven Rambin, Milo Ventimiglia, Jim Gaffigan, Brian White, Michael Patrick McGill, Lee Nicholas Harris
release US 13.Mar.15
15/US 1h34
You want popcorn with that? Ramblin and West

madsen macy kirk
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Walter Packed with witty flourishes, this starts out as a black comedy about mortality before serious edges creep in and spark surprisingly moving emotion. By the end, this is an unsettling exploration of private guilt and judgmentalism, and even more importantly the importance of expressing personal feelings. It may turn somewhat sudsy, but it's pointed and moving.

At 18, Walter (West) is convinced that God speaks to him and has entrusted him with the job of deciding who goes to heaven and hell. Obsessed with order, Walter is frightened of anything out of the ordinary, and he hates how his mother Karen (Madsen) babies and worries about him. There are further annoyances at work, as he's bullied by Vince (Ventimiglia) and is scared to speak to the smart-sexy Kendall (Rambin). But everything changes when a ghost, Greg (Kirk), starts taunting him, so he agrees to see a shrink (Macy).

Director Mastro and writer Shoulberg find clever, snappy ways to reveal the world through Walter's distinctive perspective, including little fantasies, constant annoyances and unexpected visions. For example, in his job at the multiplex, he informs each customer which screen to go to along with their afterlife destination. And the theme carries through all the way to the climactic confrontation in a deserted drive-in theatre. All of which is an intriguing way to approach a story about a young man forced to revisit his suppressed past.

The strong actors bring all kinds of detail to the characters. West initially depicts Walter as a blank slate who likes movies because he can watch them without judging. His dawning self-awareness is stunning to watch, played both physically and emotionally while the side characters offer a range of textures: needy and wounded (Madsen), bitter and perceptive (Macy), knowing and provocative (Ramblin), sardonic and insistent (Kirk). But none of this is simplistic, even if it's all carefully constructed to push Walter over the brink.

There's not much naturalism in this film, although it's packed with unexpected connections, warmly involving interaction and striking revelations that gradually shift the comedy into wrenching drama. It all boils down to the fact that Walter has never properly dealt with events from his past, so the feeling that he was in control of his life was a delusion. This is potent stuff for what initially feels like a breezy comedy. And the final kick is startlingly resonant.

cert 15 themes, language, innuendo 8.Mar.15

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