Monday, September 29, 2008

Monday Movie Day Reviews: The Fall, Grace is Gone

Note: There are some minor spoilers in both reviews.

The Fall (2008): This film epitomizes the description that films are "moving pictures." Director Tarsem (he's got the "Prince" or "Madonna" one-word-name thing) creates an imaginative and vibrant world onscreen that left me wondering, "where did they film that?" And maybe that's telling of the film. The Fall is meant to be a fairy tale for adults. But a fairy tale needs to be driven by story and being taken into another world. It should suck us in and allow us to forget the world from whence we came. But this film only reminds me of the beauty of our own world, the wonder of God's creation and the Divine reflection we can portray in our artforms. While Tarsem effectively creates a beautiful world via color saturation, elaborate costumes, and majestic cinematography, it's still our world that we're watching. And while it's a beautiful world to see, it didn't accomplish its fairy tale intentions. It's wonderful, but not ethereal.

Of course, I'm blatantly assuming that it's all meant to be a fairy tale. Perhaps it's not. The film centers around a Los Angeles hospital where a paralyzed stunt man tells an injured immigrant girl elaborate stories in order for her to get him non-prescribed medicine. Their interactions are quite down-to-earth and genuine; the child actor playing the girl is especially authentic. There's no sense of the fantastic here, yet the fairy tale stems from the stunt man's story. It's like The Wizard of Oz and The Princess Bride had a child together and grew up to be The Fall. 

For a film centered around the telling of a narrative, the ending doesn't quite support the rest of the story. (Spoiler Alert!) A closing sequence of random people taking dramatic falls--literal, physical ones--left me confused about the purpose of the story. Was it a story of redemption for the broken and suicidal stunt man? Was it a story celebrating the human imagination and value of life seen in the little girl? The ending suggests it's a story about...well...falling. Oh, and did I mention that Charles Darwin is a central character? And he has a monkey?

Despite it's mildly convoluted narrative, The Fall is a visually stunning film that I'd highly recommend seeing. Enjoy it for its aesthetics, not for its substance.

Grace is Gone (2007): I love John Cusack. His performances in The Thin Red Line, High Fidelity, and Grosse Pointe Blank are some of my favorites on screen. He's the uber-cool everyman who brings a simple charm to each of his characters. So when he first appears in Grace is Gone as a dorky glasses-wearing middle-aged dad with a slouching gait, I was definitely taken aback. Cusack creates one of his most complex characters yet, coherently shifting from being a fun-loving wacky dad to a solemn navel-gazing shell of a man. The shifts in character don't seem forced; this is simply who Stanley Phillips (Cusack) is. He's a father of two lively daughters--who both give fantastic performances, by the way--and husband to a military wife fighting in Iraq. When the news arrives that his wife was killed in battle, Stanley must deal with his personal pain while trying to find a way to communicate the tragedy to his daughters. This leads to a road trip filled with emotional bumps and bruises along the way, ending at an amusement park in Florida.

In some ways, the literal journey to the Florida park paints a picture of the emotional/spiritual journey Stanley must go through. Distracting himself and his girls from the pain ultimately won't work, but he'll delay the inevitable for as long as he can. I'm not sure Stanley shows us the healthiest way to deal with personal pain as a father, but there are some extremely touching moments in the films that literally brought me to tears. The moments don't feel contrived or cliche--the film could have been one cliche after next if poorly directed--but ends up feeling authentic and raw, in an appealing sort of way. Watching Stanley wrestle with how to communicate the death of his daughters' mother is deeply moving. I'd recommend the film for Cusack's performance, as well as the story of a person dealing with pain. 

I'm not sure why, but introspective films that portray people wrestling with real-life tragedy are some of my favorites. Lost in Translation, Lars and the Real Girl, Magnolia, Good Will Hunting, Garden State, Secrets and Lies; they all have characters dealing with enormous amounts of pain under the surface, only to find redemption and healing as they encounter love via human intimacy and community. And the truth found in that overarching theme is remarkable and profound. This is one reason why I love film: for the truth that it can portray in the most captivating of mediums.

No comments:

Post a Comment