Alan & Naomi
1992, PG, 96 min. Directed by Sterling Van Wagenen. Starring Lukas Haas, Vanessa Zaoui, Michael Gross, Amy Aquino, Kevin Connolly.
REVIEWED By Kathleen Maher, Fri., April 24, 1992
Alan & Naomi is set during World War II in New York. It exhibits the kind of excruciating attention to detail that signals misty nostalgia and an impossibly functional family life. Another early indicator that the syrup is going to pour is the presence of Michael Gross as a wise and understanding Jewish father. (He was last seen, you will remember, as the WASPy but no less wise father of Michael J. Fox in Family Ties.) This time his son is played by Lukas Haas. Here named Alan, Haas is a young boy for whom the reality of war is expressed by model airplanes and his father's obsessive tracking of campaigns with maps and pushpins. It comes closer, however, when Naomi (Zaoui), a catatonic survivor of the Gestapo, arrives to stay with the family upstairs. Now, what do you suppose is going to happen? Yes, Alan is given the assignment of trying to draw Naomi out of her shell. He resists, of course, but his resistance serves mainly as an excuse for Gross to philosophize, after which Haas does whatever it is he is asked to do. Alan & Naomi is boring in its predictability. It only jerks out its deep rut of a storyline when Naomi has a brutal flashback of her father's murder and that jarring note serves only to heighten impatience with the sentimental mush being served up here. The feeling of restlessness is mitigated only by the two young leads, Haas and French actress Zaoui. Haas wins praise every time he appears onscreen and he deserves it no less here. He makes the most of the awkwardness of adolescence, creating a real and fully-fleshed character distinct from the hordes of cute, simpering child actors endured by audiences lately. Zaoui, too, is a stand out, though in a more conventional way. She's strikingly beautiful and she plays up the cute French angle to the hilt. Luckily, she never teeters over into obvious manipulation. Certainly, she has the tougher job. Catatonic for much of the movie, she has to make the most of the speaking parts she gets. Sadly, it's not likely there will be much of an audience to applaud these teens' efforts. Alan & Naomi occupies that difficult niche, the classy children's film. It is perhaps a little too sophisticated for children, but it will definitely bore adults.