Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB. USA, 2011. Fox Searchlight Pictures, Gilbert Films, Mirage Enterprises, Scott Rudin Productions. Screenplay by Kenneth Lonergan. Cinematography by Ryszard Lenczewski. Produced by Gary Gilbert, Sydney Pollack, Scott Rudin. Music by Nico Muhly. Production Design by Dan Leigh. Costume Design by Melissa Toth. Film Editing by Mike Fay, Anne McCabe. National Society of Film Critics Awards 2011.
Anna Paquin is a hormonal, hypersensitive, sometimes charismatic but mostly trite teenager who, on a random shopping excursion to look for a hat, finds herself in the middle of a gruesome tragedy: a woman (Allison Janney) is run over by a bus and Paquin holds her in her final moments of life. From there the young woman’s world is split in two, before and after an awareness of random, senseless tragedy, inspiring in her the need to get close to the dead woman’s best friend (Jeannie Berlin), with whom she creates a plan to sue the bus company and make sure that the reckless driver (Mark Ruffalo) who killed Janney takes responsibility for his fatal carelessness. At the same time she is also dealing with other aspects of growing up, including an emotionally fragile actress mother (a superb J. Smith-Cameron) who is about to open in a play, a father (Kenneth Lonergan, the film’s writer and director) who offers advice from the California coast, and her travails into the beginnings of her sexual life including two boyfriends (one of them played by Kieran Culkin) and an unreadable cipher of a teacher (Matt Damon). This well-intentioned, bloated disaster has a handful of fantastic, intense scenes of dialogue surrounded by a lot of unnecessary observation. There is absolutely no need for the 150-minute running time, particularly considering how anodyne Paquin is in the lead role; as the unreliably melodramatic Lisa, she vacillates between two expressions, that of careless diffidence (which comes off as her reading from cue cards) and shrill anger that has her delivering Lonergan’s overwritten dialogue at impossibly high speed as if she wants to get it all out before she forgets her lines. Lisa apologizes for being “hyperbolic” and accuses her scene partner of being “strident” and then the rest of the time acts like she’s not interested in learning or observing; it should come off as an interesting contradiction of intelligence in someone so young, but Paquin’s inability to combine the character’s entire emotional mosaic makes it more than painfully obvious that she is one of Lonergan’s symbols in an insultingly allegorical piece. Shot in 2005 and subjected to a madhouse of editing delays and complications that resulted in lawsuits holding up its release, with the team of Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker overseeing the final cut, the film’s story taps into New York City’s post-9/11 angst in an attempt to be for the Twin Towers what Angels In America was for AIDS. Lonergan’s characters, however, are not people but issues and opinions, and his message, that bad things happen to good people and you have to learn to accept it, screams too loud without the boldly capricious flourishes of emotion and fantasy that Kushner indulged himself in. Berlin is the film’s main saving grace: an outstanding scene where she tells Paquin that she is not the centre of the universe simply because she happened to witness a tragedy is indicative of how good this movie could have been if it had maintained that level of excellence throughout. Her Emily is alone in coming off as a real person, and her scene where she throws booze in Jean Reno‘s face and calls it her “Jewish response” almost feels like she’s throwing this movie’s uninspiring rhetoric back in its face. Otherwise, the film is an overlong washout, with banal clichés such as emotional revelations being achieved while watching opera (which, for a character who has reservations about taking advantage of class privileges, is simply ridiculous).