Director: Julia Dyer
Starring: John Hawkes, Molly Parker, Olivia Harris
For some reason I like movies made or set in the 70s. They have a certain feel that I enjoy, a quality that represents that time period very well. This film has been compared to another modern movie set in the 70s, The Ice Storm. Done in 1997, that film was directed by Ang Lee, who would go on to create excellent films like Brokeback Mountain, Lust Caution, and Life of Pi. He's a great director and had some great actors in that film. I ended up liking it, perhaps not loving it, and I had the same reaction to The Playroom. With such a great backdrop for your movie, with such angst & undertones, I'm left feeling a little disappointed that Julia Dyer didn't knock this one out of the park. This was only her second film, so maybe she needs a little practice.
Meet the Cantwells; a wealthy suburban family who have more problems than can be explored in 90 minutes. The father, Martin, is a lawyer and a bit of a pushover. The mother, Donna, is a drinker and fairly non-present. The kids, Sam, Janie, Christian, and Maggie are pretty fed up with their parents, though they've learned to adapt and to take care of themselves. Maggie is the acting mother, getting the kids to bed and helping them with their homework, all while exploring her new found teenage independence and the sexual world of pre-adulthood. When her parents have yet another couples' party with the Knotts, Maggie's anger and some family secrets come out of hiding, while the children escape from trouble in the playroom, the only place that is their own.
It's a really heavy story, with major family issues, infidelity, resentment, young love. There's a lot to process in a short amount of time, but it does feel very real. The movie did end up looking a lot like The Ice Storm but with a few more flaws and a bit less depth. I liked the story, and the first half of the film was very interesting. I lost a little interest once Olivia Harris took over the film. She was really one note and looked bad when acting alongside Hawkes & Parker, who were both excellent. She dragged the quality down a little, but her role was a lot to ask from an actor who's never done another movie. So for her first and only film, I guess she did alright. The ending was amateur, and the blame for that goes to the director. I don't need a long voice-over at the end, I don't need everything spelled out. That's what actors are for, relaying the story to me through their characters, not through speeches. All in all, there were some really nice moments & a few good scenes, but it wasn't an extremely professional film.
My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰
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