Friday, January 18, 2008

Non-Book Reviews

After all the important things like his children, his charming wife, good health, and steps on the way to world peace, the things that make Mr. Apprentice Writer most happy are new gadgets. In his most secret of hearts he lusts for any new development on the technology horizon. Sadly for him, the collections of the junior apprentice writers almost always take precendence over new additions for his own.

But once in a while, a new techie addition is made. Oh happy day for Mr. Apprentice Writer - he finally has a high definition flatscreen TV hanging over his fireplace. We can now examine every pore of every actor whose face flashes in startling close-up across the screen.

Does the high-definition format elevate the quality of an otherwise mediocre movie? Or does it weaken what would otherwise be considered decent cinema by shining a spotlight on every flaw? Purely for research purposes, Apprentice Writer has been watching a lot of movies. One that stood out:


Alex (Alan Rickman) is released from an English prison after serving a sentence for manslaughter. He decides to visit a friend in Canada, and starts driving through the winter landscape. At a northern Ontario truckstop, he grudgingly gives a lift to Vivian (Emily Hampshire), an extroverted teen travelling home to visit her mother. Despite his morose nature, Vivian's simple joie de vivre gets under Alex' skin ,when they are hit by a truck and she is killed. Devastated, Alex pays a visit to Vivian's mother Linda (Sigourney Weaver), and is perplexed by her lack of emotional reaction.

It turns out Linda is a highly-functioning autistic woman. She lives in her own house and holds a part-time job stocking shelves at the local supermarket, but has numerous unusual mannerisms and cannot bear any changes in routine. She is obsessively clean and verbalizes her thoughts and wishes very well,, yet has childlike fascinations with trampolines, snowflakes, and sparkling objects. She wants Alex to agree to take the trash to the curb in a few days time because she can't (a chore Vivian used to complete). He agrees - which at this point is perplexing but becomes clear later - and over the next few days he acts as shield against intrusions from neighbors whose sympathy Linda finds irritating. Slowly, they develop something approaching friendship.

Alex observes how some people react to Linda's 'difference' with affection and tolerance (Linda's parents), how some react with disapproval and feeling threatened (some neighbors), how even though Linda is 'flat' emotionally she is still capable of feelings at a certain level and in her own way (through memories of her interactions with Vivian, and in some of her poetic descriptions). Alex also goes through an emotional journey, and it is the moments when his control slips that are the most powerful, cementing (as if this were necessary) Rickman's superior acting skills. Carrie-Anne Moss as the neighbor determined to be supportive despite
Linda's rejections, and Callum Keith Rennie as the guilt-stricken truck driver, are also quietly convincing. The weak link in the film is Sigourney Weaver; though she achieves moments of believability, there are many others that are stilted or telegraph 'tryig too hard'.

Even so, this thoughtful, lowkey film effectively gets its message across, all without the benefit of big budget, computer effects, or glitz. Two things gave Apprentice Writer a special kick; first, it was filmed in the tiny northern Ontario town of Wawa (Yay Wawa! Land of the Big Goose [who makes a cameo appearance] and home of one of Apprentice Writer's university roommates!), and second, though it was not a humorous movie, there was one priceless funny moment -

Alex (exasperated with the monkey wrenches Linda throws into funeral plans) : 'You're being unreasonable!'
Linda (outraged he isn't cutting her some slack becaue of her special needs): 'I'm autistic!'
Alex: 'Same thing.'
Linda (speechless and flabbergasted)


Carrie Lofty said...

I've had this on my to-be-watched list for a while, but seeing as how I don't actively seek out movies anymore--either at theaters or from rental places--I'm hopeless. Maybe one day :)

julia said...

Alan Rickman - a big fave of mine. Can't wait to see this now. I know it's not a new release but you just reminded me that it's on my to-be-watched pile.

M. said...

carrie and julia - our taste coincides yet again! please tell me what you think once you see this, and i'd love to hear about books/films that you loved (since there's an excellent chance i would too)

Wylie Kinson said...

Definitely must see this movie. I've always been a fan of Rickman (what, no comment on his pores in HD??)
And what's not to love about Wawa!! :D