In one the first scenes of “Away From Her,” Fiona Anderson (Julie Christie) puts a pan on a freezer. There’s no music to put this action in context. Fiona’s obliviousness and her husband Grant’s (Gordon Pinsent, voice of God) confusion add to the mix of what I felt as an audience. Do I react in shock? Burst in inappropriate laughter?
After that scene in the kitchen and other after that she is aware of being hit by Alzheimer’s and its consequences and warns Grant about the latter. At times she walks within a room like a ghost, mourning lost memory without crying over it. There is a repeated shot of her looking lost in her vast snowy backyard. The minimal use of the film score, the lack of overwrought crying scenes. Mostly, this movie’s approach is about what’s not being given nor shown nor heard, letting the audience react in their personal way.
I’m thinking of other actresses that might be able to pull of the character, Canadian ones. Mary Walsh would rock the skiing scene. But Julie Christie is a solid statue as Fiona and doesn’t let go, as they say. No one can do elegance like the kind she puts into her character.
That sounds a little dreary to many of you, but there’s some verbally aggressive yet sometimes comic anger from the characters, especially the women. Fiona gives Grant the worst goodbye ever. Miss Montpellier (Wendy Crewson) condescends to him. Kristy gives him a torrential speech about the obliviousness of men, out of character for archetypal customer service characters. Marian’s (Olympia Dukakis) is just rough yet likable. The men get in on the action too. Grant comments on seeing his wife in the aged home, and Fiona’s new boyfriend Aubrey (Michael Murphy) can do so much with a look.
You can look at the film as Grant’s world crumbling just as much as its implied gender dynamics. He’s learning about women and female anger and unwritten institutions of womanhood that he’s been oblivious to. Through Fiona’s degenerative condition, Fiona, Grant and the supporting characters in their lives are feeling the end, and therefore things must be said and revealed.
It’s also a ‘Canadian story for Americans’ narrative, which shows especially in Marion’s words like ‘Kamloops, BC’ ‘Canadian Tire.’ The whole room knew where Kamloops is. There’s also the retired hockey commentator who gives some of the best moments of the film.
The only flaw of this movie is when Grant uses a metaphor to describe Alzheimer’s, like light switches in the house turning off one at a time. Then the film shows their house and the lights turn off the way Grant has described. I believe in showing or telling by not both. The rest of it is a story about loss with comic relief, surprising for director Sarah Polley’s reputation.
Making this list is like finding people for the next season of America’s Next Top Model. Great comparison, actually, since like them, I try picking from the fat in a six month period. You wait till the fall to harvest. Metaphors aside, I started watching new releases diligently, partly because of this blog. Then the festivals came in May, then finances, then Cinematheque. The last new movie I saw was “Mid-August Lunch,” and that’s a technically a 2008 release. Yes, I might have to go back as far as 2008 to make this list. Anyway,
Exit Through the Gift Shop – Banksy shows us his colleague’s terrible art. I never realized that being repulsed by something so banal is an experience I’d feel on film. And there are other feeling in the mix as well.
Greenberg – Noah Baumbach is a master of dialogue. He’s capable enough to shoot and direct that dialogue, too. Ben Stiller can still do drama, even if you kinda laugh at his character.
The Secret in the Eyes – A film that seemed endless yet it satisfied me after just satisfying me. The movie broke my heart.
I am Love – Uniting critics and dividing audiences, the sensory delight in this film will make you think of RealD as bland in comparison.
I hope to fill this list with worthy films by the end of the year. I’m counting on you, Christopher Nolan, Lisa Chodolenko, Julian Schnabel (coming into my city in August), Terry Malick!
Oh my God this blog is turning into a gossip site. I could have been either talking to you about “Undertow,” “Mid-August Lunch” or “Iron Man 2” but things didn’t go as planned. I already bought my ticket for “Hogtown Homos” and God forbid something stops me from going to that screening.
Anyway, there’s commotion in the gay community about Stephen Harper and Tony Clement withholding funds that annually go towards Gay Pride. I’ve been flip-flopping about this, pardon the double entendre.
First of all, we don’t need the money. The money really is an investment since the event and the business will gain it back, unlike the other events, as reported by Slap Upside the Head, that are getting the money. Giving the funds is also more like a gesture of the government’s support of gays in Canada.
But then I found out last Friday while watching “Poison” that Canadian Heritage and Canada Council for the Arts have given funds to the Inside Out Festival, and the government hasn’t turned its back on the gays. I don’t know if that money provided mere tables or the funds to get the new James Franco movie into this medium-sized festival.
But then the first words of an article of the Globe and Mail states that Harper is probably gonna spend A BILLION DOLLARS at the G20 summit. I understand that they need first class SWAT gear, but if a billion dollars is lying around the country’s treasury for emergency purposes, Stephen Harper can give the gays mop and bucket money.
(The G20 summit hilariously coincides with the Pride Parade. I’m gonna divide my time on both AND the World Cup then.)
Why do people always think that horror movies are about teenage girls getting sliced up or about evil cats?
Atom Egoyan has the benefit of a conventionally beautiful Hollywood cast and make them straddle between that and the common non celebrities that they were playing. The bridge in Chloe’s (Amanda Seyfried) nose disappears, Catherine (Julianne Moore) is Freckle City, David (Liam Neeson) looks like the typical British person who moves to Toronto and says “soccer” – yes, those people exist and they piss me off. Michael looks like the Torontonian with one or two weird features. Not saying that white people in Toronto have weird features, the upper middle class are beautiful and Nordic, just like half of the cast members I talked about. And there’s also the name dropping of certain places that makes me feel like this is supposed to be some twisted love letter to Toronto or something.
With that sort of ordinary people look is the ordinary people outlook. Specifically, a robotic, cynical, urban outlook of sex. Catherine is a gynecologist who tells a mousy troubled virgin that an orgasm is just a series of muscular contractions. Appetizing. Chloe narrates that she knows how to touch a man and what words to say, in an unconvincing baby voice but the text should stand in for her character. The sex scene between them is more honest than it is erotic, which I’m glad for that.
Which is why it’s so contradicts how Chloe would fall in love with her female client and stalk her. The arc between professional prostitute to histrionic stalker wasn’t done well, and Amanda Seyfried couldn’t make the material work. She’s the right age in the second half of the movie, but too young for the first half. And she keeps wearing that same jacket every single time and there’s no way that’s warm enough. Chloe and Catherine’s mindset may break down and succumb to the erotic but within two extremes?
Michael, however, is enjoyable to watch as the ungrateful private son and probably has the best put-downs in movie history (“Isn’t my mom your gynecologist?”). But he and Chloe eventually consummate because he’s a horny teenager and she’s just that good in seducing everyone, right?
There is an honestly good scene between Catherine and David putting all the cards in the table. They talk over each other, they say everything with conviction, they’re neither loud or campy enough to get the attention of everyone else in the cafe. But Chloe has to show up and ruin every other scene she’s in.
And I guess it’s my Torontonian cynicism about sex and adultery. Good examples either rationalize the act, that their partners are neglectful or that the adulterers have a memory they like to cling to. Most of the time in this movie I just kept shaking my head at these fucking idiots.
Listen Atom Egoyan. I know where you hang out, and when I see you I will panhandle the shit out of you. At least George Clooney is good enough to those who saw his Batman in theatres.
I often doubt the movies I have watched before I legally become an adult. The Tim Allen/Kristie Alley movies of my childhood? I have abandoned those a long time ago. The ones I watched in my adolescence, however, are more difficult to leave behind.
For instance, the unfortunately named Moonie Pottie (Liane Balaban) would just be an unsympathetic sniveling teen if she wasn’t played by someone with the look and build of a Shalom Harlow. And her relationship with her teacher Cecil Sweeney (Andrew McCarthy) would have been creepy if they didn’t have chemistry, surprising for a first timer like Balaban. She’s on good ground most of the time, taking the script into high and low emotions. Her scene with the town doctor (Mark McKinney) is pretty hilarious as intended.
What I haven’t seen before in other movies about small towns is the insularity that the fictional New Waterford has. The town considers Moonie weird becuase she insists on leaving for New York, an invitation they have received that they strangely declined. There is also an older generation factor when the parents push her on becoming a nurse when she clearly wants to be an artist. The whole town, in other words, is adamant on sledgehammering each other dreams.
Moonie is then slightly obsessed with the train and the people who leave and arrive with it. When Moonie sees Tammy MacDonald go abroad the train teary-eyed, she narrates that Tammy would be visiting her relatives in “Cal-i-for-ni-a.” That would have been impossible because Tammy doesn’t look like the kind of girl who has family outside town. Then there’s Lou Benzoa (Tara Spencer-Nairn) willingly exiled from the Bronx with her family, a girl who would eventually become Moonie’s friend.
It’s with Moonie’s friendship with Lou that she becomes self-aware of her attitudes about her small town. Both of them talk disparagingly about their provenance and romanticizes the places where they want to be. In one of the scenes where Moonie finally socializes with others, she and Lou gather round a fire with the other teenagers. One starts to sing a folk song and Moonie joins too. Planning to escape the small town and on her way into becoming an outsider in New Waterford, joining the sing along gives her a sense of pride for her home turf.
There are other treasured moments and factoids in the film, like Lou’s mother Midge (Cathy Moriarty) complaining about the lack of a deli in Cape Breton. And that her role as a boxer’s wife is a reference to her role in Raging Bull. And this is a film that features versions of 70’s fashions appropriately toned down for a small town milieu. We do get the Benzoas’ animal print and red leather mixed with the wool sweaters and corduroy of Moonie and the rest of the town.
A decade or so after the film, Liane Balaban ends up as Dustin Hoffman’s daughter in a movie, Tara Spencer-Nairn enjoys syndication immortality in “Corner Gas” and Mary Walsh and Mark McKinney are Canadian institutions just like Tim Horton’s.
Like Moonie’s final reluctance to get on the train, I cannot let go of this film, nor do I want to.