Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Movie with Abe: Unless

Directed by Alan Gilsenan
TIFF Special Presentations

Having a home is something most people take for granted. Many things in a person’s life can change from time to time, but losing your home is a monumental event that can truly uproot everything, literally and metaphorically. That’s what makes the decision by one daughter of an established writer to live on the street and cut off all ties to anything that used to define her all the more staggering, since she has voluntarily cast off everything material in her life and willingly taken on a life most would never hope to have to experience.

University student Norah (Hannah Gross) is almost invisible the first time she is introduced, far less vocal than her two younger sisters, Christine and Natalie. Her mother, Reta (Catherine Keener) is a renowned author working on her next project, and she has an amicable relationship with her kindhearted father, Tom (Matt Craven). When Norah goes missing, her parents find her on the street outside a famous Toronto store with nothing more than a sign that reads “Goodness” in her hands. Norah refuses to speak, and not one among the multitude of visitors is able to convince her to do so. The lack of any explanation for Norah’s sudden shift in behavior sends her parents reeling as they search for answers that they cannot hope to find.

It’s an intriguing gamble to have a character remain silent for the majority of a film, and it’s not necessarily as impactful as it could be since there’s little context for how chatty she was beforehand. Her not saying anything speaks only so much since she barely had a chance to say anything at all. The film focuses heavily on the experiences of her mother as she contends with continuing her writing and translating while grappling with the seeming loss of her daughter. Keener is an accomplished actress who has tackled this kind of isolating role before in “War Story,” and while she does demonstrate tremendous commitment to the emotion of the role, it’s not her most commanding performance. Craven is properly cast as a background player without an overly substantial influence on the film. Gross turns in a solid portrayal that, again, would have meant more if the pre-homeless Norah had been more fully introduced. This film starts from an interesting vantage point and explores worthwhile territory, not quite reaching the potential it sets in getting to the root of its message about people and the world.


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