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Warner Home Video presents
Jonathan: Doesn't this all seem sort of strange?
DVD ReviewLiterary fiction hasn't fared all that well at the movies in recent years; first-rate writers from Mona Simpson (Anywhere but Here) to Philip Roth (The Human Stain) have seen their books, full of clarity, insight, drama and surprise, turned into blanded out cineplex fare. Michael Cunningham has probably done better than most: The Hours, based on his novel, was a pretty fair rendering of the book, and here an earlier book comes to the big screen. Cunningham himself wrote the screenplay adaptation, and if the movie isn't an unqualified success, it does well in capturing some of the nuance and intricacy of both prose and relationships that so often become boring and binary in film.
Things don't really start well, though, with a pretty wooden child actor playing Bobby, who is to be our hero; it's 1967, and Bobby's cultivatedly cool older brother likes to drop acid, give some to the little guy, and then philosophize. He's taken to saying things that sound deep if you're tripping ("Big pretty world, man. Everything can happen"), but don't really amount to much; in any event, Bobby is soon orphaned by what the MPAA warning describes as "a disturbing accident," and he is taken in by the family of his best friend, Jonathan.
Sit tight a little longer, because the movie stars still haven't shown up yet. Bobby and Jonathan are sort of brothers and sort of lovers, experimenting, because it's the 1970s and because it's high school. Sissy Spacek is really sort of amazing as Jonathan's mother, and she and the film are best at the little, moment-to-moment things: getting stoned and then having to talk to your best friend's parents over dinner, say, or what to do when you discover things about your kids that you probably wish you hadn't.
The film gets it together when the boys are all grown up: Jonathan lives in the East Village, out of the closet, still seemingly with a thing for Bobby; Jonathan's got a roommate, too—Clare, whose hair is dyed every imaginable color, and is the sprightly, sexy earth mothery figure for the boys, for Bobby has come to town. Playing out the various sides of the triangle is where the action is, and director Michael Mayer is blessed with some very gifted actors (other than the aforementioned Spacek). Dallas Roberts, perhaps the least well known of them, is Bobby, at turns haughty and loving, not some cheap character of a gay man, but a finely wrought portrait. As written, Bobby is almost unbearably perfect: handsome, wounded, looking for love, afraid to be alone, and Colin Farrell does fine work without a hint of movie-star mugging. His equal is Robin Wright Penn as Clare, whose part may be a little underwritten, but brings out the subtext, what's going on in Clare's head. But make no mistake—these are movie stars, and they're shot that way. When Farrell and Wright Penn do the most mundane things, they're bathed in gorgeous light like I've never seen in the East Village, and they're almost too beautiful.
The dialogue is sometimes a little too smartypants and self-conscious, and the story doesn't really kick into gear until late in the game; at times, it's like watching a 1970s bisexual episode of Friends, The One Where Chandler Has A Really Great Dealer, or something. In some respects the story resembles that of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, a Michael Chabon novel published at roughly the same time, one that still hasn't made it to the screen; my only other knock against the movie is that it sometimes feels wallpapered with music, as if the production were an exercise to get us to buy a soundtrack. It's not unlike the feeling you may get from another Robin Wright Penn movie at too many moments: Forrest Gump.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: A strong transfer with steady colors, and some small amount of scratching that seems to be from the source print.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: Some of the scoring, from Duncan Sheik, is laid on a little thick, but the dialogue is always comprehensible, and, not surprisingly, the period songs on the soundtrack sound crystalline.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 26 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Before Sunset, We Don't Live Here Anymore, Criminal, The Aviator
Extras Review: The Journey Home (06m:09s) is pretty standard studio boilerplate, a promo piece featuring interviews with director Michael Mayer, Wright Penn, Roberts and Spacek; conspicuously absent is Farrell, who is much discussed. It also features stills from scenes that didn't make the final cut. The other trailers can't be accessed from the menus, but will play when you first pop your disc into the player.
One other comment about what's not here: just before the film's theatrical release, the tabloids were abuzz with tales of audience reactions from an early screening, specifically regarding a now-deleted scene that featured all of Colin Farrell on display. Alas, Farrell fans, despite promises about these shots being restored for the DVD release, you won't find the full Colin on this disc—perhaps Warner wants you back for the special edition.
Extras Grade: D+
Final CommentsStrong on acting values and production design, the movie is one you'll appreciate more for its characterizations and little epiphanies, and less for its overall structure or storyline. You'll know pretty quickly if you care for it, as most of the film is cut from that same bolt of cloth.
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