His Dark Materials

David Gordon Green shines a light on love and loss in 'Snow Angels'

David Gordon Green
David Gordon Green

David Gordon Green's voice is low, with a soft Southern lilt, the product of years spent skipping between Arkansas and Texas, North Carolina and Louisiana. He doesn't raise his voice much ... which is a problem, because my tape recorder's only picking up about half of what he says. Later – too late – I listen in playback to an impassioned monologue he gives about the themes of his new movie, Snow Angels:

"Contrast [static] ... parallel stories [static] ... the young, hopeful, optimistic love story [high-pitched whining noise] ... cautionary tale [tape wheels turning] ... falling in love, which is just an indescribable feeling. And if you don't have that ... [silence]."

Not a half-bad summation, actually. To fill in the blanks: Snow Angels, adapted from Stewart O'Nan's 1994 novel of the same name, contrasts two parallel stories: the young, hopeful, optimistic love that blooms in stutter-steps between two halting teenagers named Arthur and Lila (played by Michael Angarano and Olivia Thirlby) and the devastating fallout of a newly divorced couple, Annie and Glenn (Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell). Glenn is a recovering alcoholic who's found God but not yet a way to hold down a job, show up for his custody dates on time, or accept the finality of their divorce. (Rockwell wears throughout the sort of stupefied look of someone who can't understand why he can't catch a break – in fact, that inability to get it is his defining trait.) There is very little light in Annie and Glenn's sections of the film and a great deal of darkness. In a lesser – or perhaps a crueler –filmmaker, the shifts to young Arthur and Lila in love might have been wielded as an admonishment or treated as a delusion ("You think young love's fun? Just wait until there's a divorce lawyer and Daddy only gets to see you two days a week"). Instead, just as Green says, theirs is an optimistic love. They give the film levity, tenderness, and hope. They make bearable the adults' heartbreak and brutality.

Snow Angels marks a series of firsts for the 32-year-old filmmaker. He was hired initially solely as screenwriter – "The first time I was ever paid for something I didn't have to try to hustle for." When the attached director dropped out, Green took over the reins. When I ask him how the experience – that of writing for another director –was different, he laughs, "I was secretly imagining myself as the director."

Shot in snow-bound Nova Scotia, Canada, the film is Green's first foray out of Southern climes, as well as his mostly tightly structured work, featuring his biggest "name" cast yet. Green is becoming a name in his own right – at least, his is being bandied about in the blogosphere a lot these days. In the pop-culture parlance, Green is having a moment – an extended one, one that's only going to get bigger. One wonders if his career is about to bisect intoBefore Pineapple Express and After.

A couple more firsts: The stoner comedy, which will be released in late summer, is Green's first overtly commercial film and also the first he hasn't scripted (it was written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg and produced by Judd Apatow). But Green – who sinks his experience, his emotions, even his wardrobe into whatever film he's working on (cast members from his debut film, George Washington, wore his childhood T-shirts)–doesn't really notice a difference. "A lot of people put more stock in scripts than I do. I just improvise and get great actors together. The script is a blueprint. ... If it's enough to get good cast involved, then it's fine with me. I don't have to personally [write the script]. I invest and identify with every process once I get involved."  

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