Sunday, April 03, 2005

The Upside of Anger

I went to this movie torn - something about the trailers intrigued me, but Mike Binder? Yuch. I really disliked his HBO show, and the thought of 121 minutes of similar drivel was spooky. But Joan Allen looked so fierce, and the addition of four really interesting young actresses as her daughters - well, who could resist? Maybe it would be mindless happy drivel, along the lines of "Something's Gotta Give" (which, in honesty, is about what the trailer seemed to be promising.)

Well, it's not that kind of movie, thankfully. It's a tremendously better one - funny, sad, moving, real, and wonderfully unpredictable. Joan Allen is fierce - and fabulous, as a complicated mother figure who you just want to hate but she's so multi-layered that you wish you could just hug her (without crushing her brittle skinny bones.) Kevin Costner - well, I have to admit, I'm not that much of a fan. In fact, I just read his imdb profile and the last film I saw him in was "JFK" in 1991. He has morphed (at least in this role) into the same guy Jack Nicholson has been in "SGG" and "About Schmidt": aging, out of shape, scraggly, barely recognizable as a former heartthrob. And yet, or maybe because of his absolute ordinariness, he was really sexy.

What I really loved about the film was, yes, I'm going to say it, the writing and direction. There were so many fresh scenes with unexpected dialogue, the plot moved in ways that defy all formulaic romantic comedy convention, and the movie jumped over some possibly pivotal scenes in favor of minor moments that really resounded. For example, (slight spoiler ahead), Allen's character has a fight with Costner's and they aren't speaking. We see some scenes of them apart and then don't actually get to see how they start up again - but we see, vividly, the followthrough of the event that brought them back together.

It also eerily dealt with some themes I've been chasing in a short story I'm revising - anger vs. grief vs. guilt, which is probably a big part of my connection with it, although I think that would be true if I'd seen it at another time.

One side note is that I became obsessed with figuring out the ages of the four daughters. One is in college, one in junior high (according to a sign at the school she is dropped off at in one scene), and the other two confused the hell out of me. In real life, Alicia Witt is 29, but she managed to pull off a college senior; Keri Russell, at 29 was, I think, supposed to be a high school senior. (She gets accepted into a dance school and her mother wants her to go to college.) Whatever. Each had a minor storyline, and only one didn't work for me. Evan Rachel Wood (who I really like) was fine as the youngest dealing with a maybe-gay boyfriend, but it was the only plot that didn't include the mother. To me, the whole film was about Joan Allen's character. The other three daughter stories were there as elements of her relationship with them; in each, the primary force was their mother's influence on their lives and how they balanced that with their own wants and desires.

I liked the way the film looked, too - not bright and pretty, but muted and a bit fuzzy. (Although it's hard to soften the colors in an Evan Rachel Wood shot without calling up memories of "Thirteen.") But it all just worked for me - it's hard to explain, but I feel like I want to see it again. That's not a usual reaction for me.


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