Sunday, February 2, 2020

Sundance with Abe: Falling

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.

Directed by Viggo Mortensen
Premieres - Closing Night Film

As parents get older, it often falls to their adult children to take care of them in a way not so unlike how they were raised as babies and toddlers. That can be an extraordinarily difficult adjustment, both for the kids who must sacrifice their time and other priorities to make sure their parents are okay, and the parents who were used to being in a position of authority now having to be subservient to the children they brought into the world. Stubbornness is all too common in older adults who think they can still take care of themselves, and it’s much worse if they were already fairly close-minded before reaching old age.

John (Viggo Mortensen) flies with his father, Willis (Lance Henriksen), from his upstate New York farm to John’s California home so that they can begin to look for a house where Willis can live. When he arrives, he claims not to remember any conversation about moving, and he immediately begins his typical tirade of insults about John’s sexual orientation, the national origins of his husband Eric (Terry Chen), and memories of his wife. John struggles to stay calm and keep from exploding at the man (Sverrir Gudnason) who was terrible to him as a child, and who now continues to confuse John’s mother (Hannah Gross) with his second wife (Bracken Burns), both of whom are now deceased.

There is another film about someone dealing with a parent losing their memory at Sundance this year, “The Father.” That film finds its title character being harsh with his daughter because he doesn’t want to be told that he’s lost it, but there’s a sense that they once had a good relationship, and that this mindset comes with old age and memory loss. That’s not the case with Willis, who speaks down to his wife in front of her friends and their children, chastises his young daughter for crying, and berates his son for not being a real man long before a loss of filter can be used as an excuse. It’s difficult to connect with him as a character and to feel anything but sadness for his family members who have always had to put up with his intolerance and cruelty.

This film marks Mortensen’s directorial debut, and he also serves as screenwriter and composer. There are some good ideas here, but the overall effect is a rather depressing and unreedeming story. Mortensen’s performance is fine, but the real stars here are Henriksen, who is now 79 years old, and Swedish actor Gudnason, who are not charged with humanizing Willis and instead portray him as the terrible person he is. Since there’s no real saving grace with Willis, it’s equally hard to find one in a film that feels like it could be headed somewhere but doesn’t really manage to get there.


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