To Gillian On Her Thirty-Seventh Birthday
1996, PG-13, 93 min. Directed by Michael Pressman. Starring Peter Gallagher, Claire Danes, Kathy Baker, Wendy Crewson, Bruce Altman, Michelle Pfeiffer.
REVIEWED By Alison Macor, Fri., Oct. 25, 1996
How do you hold on to someone after that person has died? And at what point do you let go? These are just some of the questions that David Lewis (Gallagher) faces two years after the tragic death of his wife Gillian (Pfeiffer) during the annual Nantucket Island Labor Day celebration of her birthday. Directed by Michael Pressman (Some Kind of Hero, television's Picket Fences) and based on David E. Kelley's (Picket Fences) adaptation of Michael Brady's stage play, To Gillian combines some standout performances with subtle humor, a bit of melodrama, and a good dose of poignancy. David, on leave from his teaching position in Boston, is on the island ostensibly to finish a book, but instead he barely makes it through each day in a zombie-like state so that he can dance and frolic each night on the beach with the ghost of his wife. (Thankfully the film treats these rendezvous straightforwardly, with no special-effects ghost images to cheapen the sentiment.) Labor Day and the second-year anniversary of Gillian's death bring back David's daughter Rachel (Danes) from her summer vacation with her mother's sister Esther (Baker) and husband Paul (Altman), who return to the island in order to help in commemorating Gillian's life and death. Concerned about her brother-in-law's apparent disinterest in life and his own daughter, Esther brings single mother Kevin (Crewson) as a possible date for David. Kevin's presence and Esther's continued anxiety about David's abilities to function in the real world bring the usual Labor Day festivities of sand-castle building and karaoke singing to a crashing halt. When tensions erupt and battle lines are drawn, David must decide how (and if) he wants to continue living his life. Additionally, other members of the family re-evaluate their own grieving for Gillian in an attempt to make sense of what she left behind. Peter Gallagher and Claire Danes work well as father and daughter; both actors continue to prove that they're capable of tremendous depth. As the curmudgeonly married couple Esther and Paul, Kathy Bates and Bruce Altman have a few wonderful scenes that capture well the messy layers that can grow over the heart of a marriage. While the story hits a few awkward spots during its execution, To Gillian manages to hold it together as a well-crafted and touching story about love and loss.