Tag Archives: B

STILL MINE

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B

There’s more than a hint of Hallmark Hall of Fame in Michael McGowan’s fact-based film about a crusty old man who falls afoul of bureaucratic red tape when he determines to build a new house for his Alzheimer-afflicted wife. But the performances of James Cromwell and Genevieve Bujold are so skilled that they elevate what might have simply been sentimental claptrap into something rather touching and even profound. It never generates the wrenching emotional power of “Amour” or “Away from Her”—two recent films it inevitably calls to mind. But its quiet poignancy is quite moving in itself.

Cromwell plays Craig Morrison, an elderly farmer living near the tiny town of St. Martin’s in New Brunswick, Ontario. He has his hands fairly full with his few head of cattle, the fact that his strawberry crop has been rejected because of lack of refrigerated transport and general upkeep on the place. But he still insists on doing everything himself, rejecting any help from his grown children John (Rick Roberts) and Ruth (Julie Stewart) who live nearby, or from neighbors Chester and Margaret Jones (George R. Robertson and Barbara Gordon).

There’s a strong reservoir of tenderness, however, in the self-reliant man’s attention for his failing wife Irene (Bujold). He can be sharp with her when her memory fails or she neglects food boiling on the stove, but that’s just a matter of his refusal to recognize how serious her condition has become; and when she falls on the stairs, he rearranges their cluttered house to make things easier for her. And going further, he decides to construct a small, one-storey place for them on a plot of their land overlooking the bay. A skilled woodworker whose father, a shipbuilder, taught him well, he’s determined to build the place himself as an obvious labor of love, employing only his little grandson to take some measurements for him.

Unfortunately, he runs into municipal regulations that require blueprints, pre-approval of materials and strict adherence to building codes, not to mention expensive permits. His failure to comply leads the rule-obsessed inspector (Jonathan Potts) to order him to stop construction, and though his long-time lawyer Gary (Campbell Scott) offers advice about dealing with the municipal boards and, eventually, the courts, his case seems hopeless—until…. Well, the outcome won’t be revealed here, but rest assured it’s a heartwarming one, even if as presented it’s curiously fragmentary.

In any event, the more important part of the story is the relationship between Craig and Irene, which Cromwell and Bujold play to perfection. He’s the very image of stony but genteel stubbornness, and her fluttery fragility complements it movingly. Some of their scenes together are remarkable for their perception, such as the one in which they undress in front of one another, and all exhibit an easy familiarity that persuades us that they’ve been married for sixty years and still deeply in love.

Apparently taking a cue from the adjective in the title, McGowan’s direction is the very definition of unhurried. That has the virtue of allowing the performances to breathe, and Cromwell in particular takes advantage of it. The deliberate pace and generally understated air make his occasional outbursts all the more powerful, and the scene when Irene suffers an episode after an evening drive all the more striking.

The secondary performances –including Scott’s—are naturalistic and unforced, and visually the film is fine, with Brendan Steacy’s unpretentious cinematography taking advantage of the Quebec locations. The music, by Hugh Marsh, Don Rooke and Michelle Willis, is unobtrusively supportive.

Thanks to stellar work from Cromwell and Bujold, “Still Mine” etches a moving portrait of the enduring love of a couple whose life together only appears to be ordinary.

THE WAY, WAY BACK

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B

This summer’s collection of likable coming-of-age movies is increased by this alternately charming, penetrating and rote comedy-drama from the team of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who among other things collaborated with Alexander Payne on the Oscar-winning screenplay for “The Descendants” but here direct too, as well as taking supporting roles in front of the camera. “The Way, Way Back” covers familiar territory, but for the most part in a pleasantly quirky fashion.

One of the period film’s more unusual aspects is that Steve Carell, usually the befuddled nice guy, plays against type as Trent, the controlling boyfriend of single mom Pam (Toni Collette). Their relationship is tested when they go off for the summer to Trent’s beachfront house on the Atlantic coast south of Boston, taking along his daughter Steph (Zoe Levin) and her son Duncan (Liam James). The focus is on the fourteen-year old boy, whom Trent treats with casual condescension, but who finds an unlikely friend in Owen (Sam Rockwell), a wild and crazy guy who runs a local water park and not only gives the kid a job there but encourages him to come out of his shell. By August Duncan’s grown up, and his mother has come to see Trent for what he is.

“The Way, Way Back”—a title that refers to the seat in the rear of Trent’s station wagon, where Duncan’s forced to sit during the drive to the coast—has an arc without many surprises, but though the destination is pretty much preordained, the journey there is largely enjoyable, thanks to some sharp writing and a winning cast. As Duncan—the linchpin of the script—James could hardly be called charismatic, but his understated approach pays dividends when the character’s reserve begins to melt away and he begins to enjoy himself—and become angry over his mother’s mistreatment by Trent. Carell is convincingly odious, especially when he teams up with an unpleasant “swinging” couple named Kip and Joan (Rob Corddry and Amanda Peet). And although you might want to slap Collette’s Pam for her obtuseness in not immediately seeing Trent for the cad he obviously is, the actress uses subtle gestures to suggest the character’s gradual, pained recognition, while Allison Janney comes close to stealing every scene she’s in as Trent’s garrulous neighbor. River Alexander is a geeky charmer as her put-upon son and AnnaSophia Robb sweetness itself as his older sister, who befriends Duncan while Trent’s daughter Stephanie (Zoe Levin) enjoys humiliating him.

But most of the movie’s pizzazz comes from the folks at the water park, especially Rockwell, who’s obviously taken a page from Bill Murray’s “Meatballs” playbook to make Owen a goofy Peter Pan type whose lackadaisical exterior conceals a warm heart. Maya Rudolph brings great comic exasperation to his put-upon assistant, while Faxon and Rash lend their expert timing to Lewis and Roddy, the former the straitlaced, put-upon souvenir-shop clerk and the latter the gregarious overseer of the park’s water slide and teaches Duncan the lascivious tricks of his trade.

Like “The Kings of Summer,” the other genial coming-of-age comedy-drama in theatres at the moment, “The Way, Way Back” is a modestly-budgeted independent production. But John Bailey’s cinematography takes advantage of the locations in Marshfield, Massachusetts, and all the other technical credits are fine. And the score—combining original music by Bob Simonsen and a potpourri of songs supervised by Linda Cohen—adds mood and emotional color to the proceedings.

After you’ve gorged yourself on the studio blockbusters, here’s an agreeable, insightful if uneven smaller film that can serve as a tasty palate cleanser. Give it a try.