Unhook the Stars

1997, R, 104 min. Directed by Nick Cassavetes. Starring Gena Rowlands, Marisa Tomei, Gerard Depardieu, Jake Lloyd, David Sherrill, David Thornton, Bridgette Wilson, Moira Kelly, Clint Howard.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 4, 1997

Nick Cassavetes, son of John, directs his mother (Rowlands) in a film that could easily be mistaken for one of his father's. Got that? Rowlands plays Mildred, a fiftysomething widow stuck in a life that appears to be falling apart. Despite the tidy inheritance, she's at loose ends emotionally; her spiteful, bickering daughter Ann Mary Margaret (Kelly) is moving out and leaving Mildred alone to handle the responsibilities of suburban house and home. When next-door neighbor Monica (Tomei) shows up one afternoon and pleads with the startled Mildred to take care of her young son J.J. (Lloyd) while she goes to work, Mildred's acquiescence unexpectedly opens a door for both herself and the boy. There's much more to Cassavetes' film than this, but giving any more away is neither wise nor necessary. Suffice to say, like father, like son. Nick Cassavetes has long been a skilled actor, but with Unhook the Stars he demonstrates a genuine flair for directing as well. Unhook the Stars is an emotionally exhilarating ensemble piece, with each character fully realized and fleshed out. Rowlands, Lloyd, and Tomei all turn in masterful performances, especially Tomei, who so completely becomes her role that it's now difficult for me to think of her otherwise. She has that rare chameleon-like trait that flows unassisted from our greatest actors and actresses: she never plays a part, she becomes it, body and soul. It's an amazing ability, completely a joy to watch, and never more so than here. In a film positively packed with bravura, heartfelt performances, Tomei tops them all. Rowlands is no slouch, though. Her performance as an aging woman no longer sure of her emotional and social bearings is powerfully constructed from the raw material of rusted dreams and faltering ambitions. Rowlands, too, never plays down the character of Mildred or makes light of her tenuous situation, although Mildred is, nevertheless, frequently funny. She, instead, allows the occasional humor to pool around her, instinctively realizing that to force a chuckle is just as bad as coercing a sob. Cassavetes' directing debut is a marvelous slice of life, all the more revelatory for its punchy, boisterous performances and subtle direction. Genius may very well be an inherited trait.

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Unhook the Stars, Nick Cassavetes, Gena Rowlands, Marisa Tomei, Gerard Depardieu, Jake Lloyd, David Sherrill, David Thornton, Bridgette Wilson, Moira Kelly, Clint Howard

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