RB score: 9/10
More than anything this movie is about the art of filmmaking. No, this isn’t the plot, this is what director Jason Reitman, who I’m becoming a dedicated fan of, is bringing to the screen, with his keen insights utilizing simple metaphors to delve way beyond the surface of a human story.
Single mom Adele, with her 13 year old son Henry are on a mundane shopping trip when the escaped convict Frank observes them and decides they will be his targets. Adele searches through the sale racks for new clothes for Henry as the boy walks away to gaze at a magazine rack where every cover contains a beautiful woman looking at him invitingly. Thus we are introduced to the subplot before the main storyline gets underway.
Frank convinces Adele to give him a ride and this plot point caused some hand wringing in the critic ranks as being implausible. Such reviews totally miss the point. Life can, and often is, just as “improbable” as the film. Letting go of what is probable or not, comprises an essential element of the artistry here necessary for the viewer to absorb the movie’s themes.
Reitman is examining more closely the wide variety of prisons that people get in. Not just conventional prison. Consider the prisons that many people dwell in, such as the boy in the wheelchair, in a prison of his abusive mom, only able to escape for one day. When they first came to the door I couldn’t figure out where Reitman was going with that element. Well of course he demonstrated the prison of someone in a wheelchair who couldn’t even communicate effectively let alone realize any of the joys of normal childhood. Beautiful use of irony here since the prison escapee gave him the only free afternoon he knew.
The film’s subplot is also completely believeable even if individual details seem not to be. Young Henry is susceptible to the manipulations of a cute, but toxic girl from school and for a while is caught in his own peculiar form of prison. Later, having evaded the prison of life with his dad and the corresponding new family, he goes back to spend a year there as the film resolves its themes and we see that Henry had to compare prisons, as we so often do in life, to discover where relative freedom exists. This is again, not unrealistic. Maybe you could point to the most improbable point being when they agree to give him a ride. But often this is what chronically depressed people do – make incoherent decisions. When the prison is your own mind, the mind isn’t free to consider consequences, and that’s the world Adele lives in.
In the car, Frank had asked them to let him stay at their house for a few hours. Up until this point I had been vaguely impatient at the director’s choice of soundtrack and camera work, but by the time we get to the scenes of Frank, Adele and the boy at the home, a few things are happening that kept me first, glued to the screen and eventually, breathless with admiration. And I’m not referring to the scenes where Frank, grateful for having a place to stay, tackles the entrenched neglect and does many repairs in and around the home. (A man enjoying chores that much was the only unrealistic point in my view). It’s that the quality of development starts to take off here, peeling back the layers of not only the film’s characters, but of the themes that Reitman gracefully details as the film progresses. Ordinarily I’m not fond of the flashback sequence as a movie device however Reitman does them so well here, expertly and seamlessly woven in to advance the plot and character development, with only minor visual cues as a bridge. Also, I found myself admiring the camera work and wondering why certain shots were used. Not in the critical sense, more in the analytical sense that a really good film can inspire in the viewer. Mostly, though, the viewer is immersed in a trio of fine performances. Could’ve would’ve should’ve been Oscar material, but what does RB know.
A single point deduction for occasional irritating soundtrack choices.