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dir-scr Chris Kelly
prd Adam Scott, Naomi Scott, Sam Bisbee
with Jesse Plemons, Molly Shannon, Bradley Whitford, John Early, Zach Woods, Maude Apatow, Madisen Beaty, June Squibb, Paul Dooley, JJ Totah, Kerri Kenney, Retta
release UK Jun.16 slf, US 9.Sep.16
Laughter is the best medicine: Plemons and Shannon
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
Themes of mortality and repression make this drama rather heavy-going, but there's a freshness to the ensemble cast that injects jagged humour into every scene. And filmmaker Chris Kelly keeps the tone awkward, which gives the film an improvised atmosphere to help avoid any obvious sermonising.
With his screenwriting career struggling to take hold in New York, David (Plemons) returns to Sacramento to help care for his mother Joanne (Shannon), who is coping with cancer. He's enjoying being with her and his sisters (Apatow and Beaty), although their father Norman (Whitford) has never accepted David's sexuality or met his boyfriend (Woods). But everyone avoids the topic. To vent, he meets up with his school friend Gabe (Early), who lost his mother years earlier. Over the next year, David struggles to hold his tongue so his mother can pass on peacefully.
Basically, everyone in this family believes that issues don't exist as long as you don't talk about them. So it's fairly unnerving when conversations turn frank and confrontational. For example, one clash reveals subtle angles to Norman's beliefs that explain the distance in his connection with his son. The depth of feelings revealed in these discussions is often unexpected, and it's clear that the characters wish they had kept their mouths closed rather than get all of this out in the open.
The actors are terrific at playing this kind of layered interaction. Plemons anchors the film beautifully as a nice guy whose life hasn't gone the way he imagined it would, so he puts his energies into caring for his mother instead. He's a likeably, open-hearted guy who's easy to root for. Shannon is also wonderful in a very tricky role as a woman trying to be the life of the party even though she's basically the opposite of that. And Whitford is excellent in a difficult role as a close-minded man trying to open up.
All of this intense interpersonal drama is greatly lightened by a bright script that's punctuated with witty observations and real-life humour. Much of the audience's laughter may be of the nervous type, mainly due to self-recognition. There's real resonance in the idea that most of us go through life expecting all of these major events to happen to other people, rather than to us. And the film's strength is in the way it gives meaning to the honest reactions of everyone involved.
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© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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