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Review by Rich Cline |
dir Peter Sattler
scr Steve Waverly
prd Molly Smith, Trent Luckinbill, Thad Luckinbill, Rachel Smith, Trina Wyatt
with Ben Platt, Lola Kirke, Yvette Nicole Brown, Alphonso McAuley, Chad Willett, Lynda Boyd, Ben Andrusco-Daon, Amanda Fix, Debs Howard, Catherine Lough Haggquist, Andy Thompson, Peter Benson
release US 21.Jul.21
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A gentle drama about family connections, this film is warm and engaging, balancing a mix of edgy humour and open emotion. Director Peter Sattler and writer Steve Waverly take an observational approach, letting comedy give way to more a serious story that never-sentimentalises the impact of mental illness. It has a tendency to be both glib and over-earnest, but resonant performances Ben Platt and Lola Kirke keep it grounded.
Aspiring writer Scott (Platt) hopes to kickstart his career by moving to Paris. But his plan is upended when his father dies suddenly, and he has to take in his mentally unstable older sister Cindy (Kirke), because their stepmom Cookie (Brown) is unable to. After almost burning down his flat, Scott helps Cindy get a job, but worries that she's not taking her meds. Then running into Cindy's old friend (Howard) raises complications. And all of this is making it impossible for Scott to settle his father's estate and catch his flight out of town.
It's never very believable that Cindy remains so utterly oblivious about her trail of destruction. And flickering flashbacks reveal that these minor calamities have always been part of the family's life. Still, it's odd that the script essentially sidesteps any sense of grief over their father's passing, leaving Cindy and her issues to spark each narrative event. This leaves the story to explore deepening emotions between these siblings and those around them.
Platt and Kirke give performances that have an easy authenticity, anchored by the likeable and always rather intense Platt as a guy who doesn't seem able to catch a break. Even on her meds, Cindy is pretty out of control, and Kirke plays her in an charmingly offhanded way. So when she spirals, it's easy to see how Scott has always loved and hated her at the same time. Side roles offer other kinds of interaction, from sweet to awkward to harsh.
Scott's deeper feelings are honest and a bit nasty: that his life has been derailed by Cindy's chaos, and now his chance to escape from her orbit is in jeopardy. He knows it's not Cindy herself who's the problem, but dealing with her illness is overwhelming. And he also understands that he knows Cindy better than anyone else. So while the film sometimes wallows in its issues, it also takes an unusually optimistic approach to a difficult topic. That may make it feel a bit simplistic, but the hopefulness has real power.
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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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