Length: 106 minutes
Director: David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express; All the Real Girls)
Writer: David Gordon Green (All the Real Girls; Undertow)
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell, Amy Sedaris, Griffin Dunne, Nicky Katt, Michael Angarano, Olivia Thirlby, Jeannetta Arnette, Tom Noonan, Connor Paolo, Leah Ostry
One of the sad facts of the Academy Awards is that great movies that are released before the latter half of their respective year of eligibility end up being largely ignored once voting commiserates. I have a sick feeling in my stomach that “Snow Angels” will be one of those films. I have stated on this blog before that I rarely give out “four star” (and “no star”) reviews. It takes a lot for a film to be considered four star worthy to me (I know Roger Ebert, as much as I respect the man, throws them out like samples at Publix on Sundays). Let me tell you that “Snow Angels” deserves this rating. For all the bullshit “dysfunctional family” dramas that drop every year, here is one that finally feels real and packs a strong emotional wallop that doesn’t feel forced. It also features Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell in the performances of their careers. Come Oscar time if they’re names aren’t in the ring, then there needs to be a serious examination into the process of the voting. Maybe the movie works so well because it really isn’t so much a dysfunctional family drama as it is a dysfunctional people drama. The characters in the movie are flawed, but not because they want to be. They try to be good people, but like the rest of us, things happen that they can’t control or let happen because they don’t want to control them. Beckinsale stars as Annie. Recently separated from her unstable, born again alcoholic husband, Glenn (Rockwell). They have a daughter- a precious young girl named Tara (Gracie Hudson). Neither of them are sure how to be parents. They know that they love their child, but both are so unhappy with their lives that they aren’t sure how to give Tara what she requires, particularly attention. Annie works as a waitress in a Chinese restaurant alongside her best friend, Barb (“Strangers with Candy”’s Amy Sedaris- showing she’s a fine dramatic actress as well) and teenager Arthur (Michael Angarano), whom she used to baby sit when she was younger. Annie is having a guilt heavy (on her side anyway) affair with Barb’s husband (Nicky Katt). He smells her hair in a cheap motel room they rent for an afternoon sex session and tells her he loves the scent. Annie begins to imagine how many other girls he says the same thing to. Arthur’s story makes up the other half of the film. As Annie’s portion is about the death of a love affair, his is about the beginning of one. He meets the new girl in school, Lila (“Juno”’s Olivia Thirlby) and they instantly hit it off, though he is afraid to move too fast. “Why haven’t you kissed me yet?”, she asks him after weeks of flirting. Lila knows just what Arthur needs at the moment, because his home life is on shaky ground. His selfish professor father (Griffin Dunne) has left his mother (Jeannetta Arnette) for a younger woman whom he claims is “just a friend”. There are many comical moments in the first portion of the film and then things start to fall apart, but it isn’t done in a fashion that feels awkward. It feels natural. There is sense of trepidation from the opening shots of the film as Arthur and Lila’s band begins practice and gun shots are heard in the distance. The film flashes back to weeks earlier and we are told the back story from there. The tragedy that awaits is Shakespeare worthy and as we laugh at the movie’s funnier moments deep in the back of our throats we know that this all won’t end well. For some people that’s how they live their entire lives. That’s how most of the characters in “Snow Angels” live theirs. Director David Gordon Green has long been heralded as our generation’s Terrance Malick and here is his “Days of Heaven”- his masterpiece. He puts so much of himself into the film that it’s no wonder he choose the Seth Rogen/James Franco pot comedy “Pineapple Express” as his next project after filming this. If you aren’t familiar with is work, then I highly suggest going through his back catalog (start with “All the Real Girls”- you won’t regret it). He is worth the hype and he proves he is 100% for real here. I doubt there will be a better film in 2008.
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