Directed by Dan Harris. Starring Sigourney Weaver, Emile Hirsch, Jeff Daniels, Michelle Williams, Kip Pardue, Deirdre O’Connell, Ryan Donowho. (2004, R, 112 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., March 11, 2005
Whether or not you write off this dysfunctional family drama as Ordinary People-lite will depend largely on how many hidden revelations you can stand before saying "enough’s enough." Directed by 24-year-old X2: X-Men United scribe Harris, this is heady stuff that, in the end, suffers from just too many subplots, shocking discoveries, and quasi-nihilistic thematic offshoots. That said, it also contains some of the best and most nakedly honest acting in recent memory. To start with, there’s Weaver’s matriarch, Sandy Travis, the nominal head of a clan that includes husband Ben (Daniels), daughter Penny, and sons Tim (Hirsch) and Matt (Pardue), the latter of whom has just committed suicide. Matt was a college swim-team phenom who despised both the sport and the relentless favored-son attentions of his father. His unforeseen death slams into the Travis family like a tsunami, scattering them every which way and sending them to the brink of total emotional and physical collapse. Weaver brings limitless nuanced shades to her performance, and while son Matt is the linchpin of the story (as well as the narrator), it’s this indomitable, spirited performance from Weaver that sticks in your mind most. Buoyed by Weaver’s fearlessness, Hirsch (The Girl Next Door) likewise turns in a thoroughly believable performance. Unlike his brother, the scrawny Tim has no athletic ability and is instead something of a high school loner. He was the only one who knew of his brother’s dismay at being cast as the athletic star, and the film makes much of his guilty depression stemming from this. If he had broached the subject to his father, would things have turned out differently? With Daniels’ emotionally isolated, go-getting father at the helm, probably not, but Tim still can’t help but wonder. Harris’ film has a third act that consists almost entirely of skeletons tumbling out of the closet, but Weaver's and Hirsch’s flawless performances elevate the film above and beyond the ranks of Ordinary People pastiches, and in the end it stands on its own merits.