' ' Cinema Romantico: Snow Angels

Monday, March 31, 2008

Snow Angels

It appears that David Gordon Green is the "Star Trek" of directors. What I mean when I say that goes back to the adage that cinematic versions of "Star Trek" were good every other movie. ("Insurrection" shot up the theory, but never mind.) If Green's debut "George Washington" was scattershot and problematic, though showing massive potential, his follow-up "All the Real Girls" was brilliant. And if his third film "Undertow" was scattershot and problematic, "Snow Angels" is kinda' brilliant. First great movie of 2008? Well, technically the film was first screened at Sundance in 2007.

Simply put, Green is the best director to come into Kate Beckinsale's life. Oh, I'm sure Kate would argue that Len Wiseman, the man who directed her in the "Underworld" movies and became her husband, was the best director to enter her existence but, let's be honest, Kate's spouse can't frame her as well as Green. I don't remember who but there was a film critic who in the wake of "Vacancy" wrote that Beckinsale was all "severe sexiness." Yes, she is - sweet Lord, is she a beautiful woman - and Green puts the severity of her sexiness front and center right from the get-go. His camera pushes in on her unblemished face time and again, giving her prodigious beauty nowhere to run. The first shot is of her in her car and her splendid smile, her adoring giggle, will turn your mind into jelly.

But lest this review become nothing but me raving about how I'd like to take Kate down to the soda fountain for a milkshake I should stress that Kate's nearly-always untapped acting ability is also on full display. She is Annie, a downtrodden waitress in an unspecified small town, with a four year old daughter Tara and a husband Glenn (Sam Rockwell) with whom she has broken up. This is the sort of role Rockwell could probably play in his asleep but he's wide awake here. Glenn is a guy that can't hold down a job, can't stop drinking, and can't stop telling people "Jesus loves you" even if he probably doesn't believe it. Rockwell makes Glenn a guy who is constantly teetering right on the edge, a split-second away from collapsing over it. Annie, of course, is more together but you also see many sudden bouts of stack-blowing. People can tire of too much responsibility and with her daughter and her mother and Glenn that's a lot to keep on one plate. Beckinsale does a quality job hiding her frustrations but making sure to let us know they're always there.

Annie is having an affair with Nate (Nicky Katt), the sort of guy who calls people "chief", and who is married to Barb (Amy Sedaris who, I must say, is quite good), Annie's co-worker and best friend. Self destruction? Penance? Maybe a little of both?

Contrasted against this is the burgeoning relationship at the high school between Arthur (Michael Anagarano), who Annie once used to babysit, and Lila (Olivia Thirlby, who you saw as "Juno's" cheerleader best friend). He plays in the marching band and she takes pictures. (Wasn't it Scarlett Johansson in "Lost in Translation" who said every girl goes through a "photography phase"?) It is sweet and authentic and I found myself wishing a little bit that the subplot was the main plot. I don't mean that as a criticism of the main plot but a comment on the beauty of the subplot. Lila brought to my mind the extraordinary girl I was privileged to date as a senior in high school, unaffected by those around her and way too cool for school. Arthur's parents (Jeanetta Arenette and Griffin Dunne) are also in the midst of a separation and they advise Arthur the typical things - "You know it's not about you."

Green has never been a director to serve up tidy plot points and emotional cues to guide you. We're something bad is on its way (the beginning lets us know) but the dread sneaks up on you. Suddenly, it's there and it's in your face. The end is rather horrifying while simultaneously hopeful. A thin line to walk but "Snow Angels" does so without wobbling.

"We don't know what fate has in store for us," says one character. I disagree. Sometimes you do know. And I think Arthur and Lila get the hell outta' that town. And I think they both go on to lead great lives.


Wretched Genius said...

1. How exactly did Insurrection break the theory? Insurrection was an odd numbered franchise entry, and was not good at all. It was the terrible 10th movie, Nemesis, that broke the theory by having 2 bad films in a row.

2. Have you seen the trailer for Green's next film, Pineapple Express, written and starring Seth Rogan? It actually looks really good, but it in no way looks like something you would expect David Gordan Green to be attached to.

Nick Prigge said...

My apologies to all "Star Trek" fans. I get all those movies confused. I thought "Insurrection" came after "Nemesis". This is why I need an editor.

I haven't seen a preview yet for "Pineapple Express" but I was aware he was directing it. I'm excited he's testing himself like that. I've got my fingers crossed that this time he makes 2 good ones in a row.