Friday, July 23, 2010

Movie with Abe: Life During Wartime

Life During Wartime
Directed by Todd Solondz
Released July 23, 2010

Some movies are so quirky and off-putting from the get-go that audience members may be tempted to disregard them completely without giving them an appropriate chance to prove their worth. There’s often a reward to be found for sticking through the experience, usually in the form of getting to truly know select characters through intense and deep exploration, even if plot is sacrificed. Sometimes the payoff isn’t worth it, however, and other times, it’s hard to determine exactly what’s been accomplished and what’s still up in the air. “Life During Wartime” falls into the latter category, acting as an intriguing and altogether eccentric portrait of several intersecting and intertwining lives.

This film begins from radically different starting points for its characters, and the diverse arcs explored serve to both contradict and complement each other interestingly. Two pedophiles search for acceptance as one embarks on a new relationship and the other is freed from prison, and both encounter the ghosts of their pasts as they try to move forward and begin anew. One woman meets a new man and is overcome by how normal and simple he is, while her son prepares to become a man as his Bar Mitzvah approaches.

On the surface, the film might seem like an overly scripted, often awkward picture of deplorable characters. But there are tremendous subtleties likely lost on many audience members, particularly related to music choices. While the instrumentals of the classic “Fiddler on the Roof” song “Matchmaker” may be fairly symbolically obvious to most, the repeated playing of part of the Hebrew prayer “Avinu Malkeinu” (Our Father, Our King) is more cleverly indicative of additional themes. The audible lyrics, as translated in the Siddur Sim Shalom prayer book, are “treat us with justice and righteousness, and deliver us.” Picking up on the deeper meanings helps to lend the film increased credibility. It deals with unpleasant concepts but, to its credit, nothing objectionable or disturbing apart from the uncomfortable dialogue is presented on screen to make viewers squirm.

“Life During Wartime” solicits extremely impressive performances from some of its supporting players, who hone in on their characters in their most intimate and private moments. Both Michael K. Williams and Ciarin Hinds play broken pedophiles whose impulses and misdeeds are known to the world around them, and their portrayals are equally meaningful and heartbreaking. The high-pitched and bizarre Shirley Henderson turns in a dazzling and hypnotic performance as the hapless, self-destructive Joy, and her peculiar singularity is what keeps the film together. The always-great Allison Janney is particularly adept at enunciating the script’s very specific and more often than not strange dialogue. Like the film itself, the performances are idiosyncratic and odd, with echoes of “A Serious Man” in (mostly) positive ways. Overall, it’s not nearly as complete or comfortable an experience, provoking thoughts but not necessarily coherent ones.


No comments: