One of the most interesting aspects to this Tamara Jenkins production (Slums of Beverly Hills) is how she uses Bertolt Brecht’s (1898 – 1959) dramatic theory (what can we learn? narrative rather than plot – and then to present the story in a rather anti -Brecht non-epic way) to frame the story.
Wanda Savage (Laura Linney) lives in Manhattan and is trying to get a grant to write a book. Meanwhile she is having a meaningless affair with a married neighbor. Wanda’s brother, Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman), is a drama professor in Buffalo. His love interest is returning to Poland because her visa has expired and Jon won’t marry her. Wanda gets a call that their dad’s partner of twenty years has died and he has had a meltdown. Wanda and Jon head to Arizona and end up bringing dad (Philip Bosco) back to Buffalo; they place him in a nursing home because he seems to be having memory loss. Jon is matter-of-fact; Wanda obsesses over her dad’s comfort as she and Jon disagree about his care; two kids bickering.
Both Wanda and Jon suffer from the lack pf parenting; you get the idea that these two, who have done well enough in life in some ways, raised themselves. Neither has a clue about relationships but they obviously long for permanence. At this point mom is out of the picture and has been for decades, and they haven’t been in touch with their dad for two decades. Neither has he sought them out.
The good thing about this film is that the two main characters learn something. It has the feel of looking at a tiny part of life, one that many struggling middle class people face in our own day. Is it entertaining? If you are a student of human nature, yes. If you appreciate fine acting almost for its own sake, yes. Some people couldn’t sit through it at the theater and left after about 30 minutes; I suspect it may have seemed tedious because it was so … ordinary; it is no grand epic; it seems to be all narrative and almost plotless. The one line that impressed me was when Wanda accuses her boyfriend, who comes to visit her in Buffalo, of cheating on his wife proclaiming that she hasn’t been the one cheating. He tells her that she does cheat: she is cheating on herself.
The acting is fine, as we would expect from two of today’s best actors.
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