The Life Before Her Eyes
2008, R, 90 min. Directed by Vadim Perelman. Starring Uma Thurman, Evan Rachel Wood, Eva Amurri, Brett Cullen, Gabrielle Brennan, John Magaro, Molly Price.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 25, 2008
Diana (Thurman) suffers from a serious case of survivor’s guilt – or so it would seem. As a teenager she experienced a Columbine-style rampage in her high school, and the upcoming 15th anniversary of that massacre is making her more skittish than usual. She is haunted by the moment in which the shooter (Magaro) presented her and her best friend, Maureen (Amurri), with an untenable choice. Sequestered in the bathroom when the shooting starts, the two girls come face-to-face with the killer, whose slugs to the plumbing creates a spray of water that douses the distressing scene with a billowy sheen. The scene replays continually in Diana’s mind, with Wood portraying the part of the teenaged Diana. Each time the film returns to the scene, the audience gets to see a little bit more of what ultimately happened. However, by the end of the film when all becomes clear, you may find yourself wishing you know less than you do because the answers the film provides are not the least bit satisfying and are, in fact, rather irritating and the source of further questions which The Life Before Her Eyes does not begin to address. All of which makes it difficult to discuss in a review without disclosing the movie's big reveal, even though Perelman drops numerous overt clues along the way. The film is adapted by screenwriter Emil Stern from a novel by Laura Kasischke, but the film's texture seems to be all Perelman, who follows up House of Sand and Fog with this sophomore effort. Like that earlier film, The Life Before Her Eyes is heavy on atmospherics, though this new film is a melodrama rather than a thriller. Both films traipse inchoately through a woman's disturbed consciousness, offering themes and striations but no patterns or rationales. Yet while traipsing, both films present an almost tactile vision of each woman's unmooring. House is dark and brooding, with issues of immigration and Iranian politics lurking in its depths; Life is full of sunshine and flowers and pretty necklaces, with the topics of abortion, guilt, and massacres infusing all those flowers with the aroma of death. Thurman and Wood both deliver strong performances and make for believable versions of the same person at different stages of her life. Perelman eases the transitions between the past and the present with echoing phrases and situations, but they all seem rather pat and contrived. Does he really think that repeated refrains from the Zombies oldie, "She's Not There," won't be a dead (so to speak) giveaway?