Many films attempt the ambitious. Few succeed. This film is one of them.
Though billed as a black comedy, that term seems too limiting to express the true nature of the story behind Max and Grace. Multi-hyphenate Michael Parness has managed to weave elements of absurdest comedy with incredibly real human emotion. Quite a remarkable feat, to be certain.
While the comedic aspects are certainly present, the heart of the film lies in its leads: David Krumholtz and Natasha Lyonne. The delicate balance of the film - really crazy versus real love - falls to them and they achieve it, carrying it through from the opening scene to the heart wrenching climax and on to the heartwarming ending. David Krumholtz, in the titular lead role and as narrator, anchors the picture and does an exceptional job. We see the world through Max's eyes and Krumholtz imbues them with a sort of wonder and hopefulness that one would not expect to be believable coming from a character who had previously attempted suicide. There should be no doubt from this point on that he has truly achieved leading man status, well deserved after more than a decade of memorable supporting roles. Natasha Lyonne might be something of a revelation for anyone who has seen her only in less challenging roles. The role of Grace is expansive in scope, requiring her to show both great rage and great tenderness - sometimes within seconds of each other. She manages to convince us of Grace's deep seated desperation that lies just beneath her alternating torpor and mania.
This is not a laugh a minute type of comedy so don't see the film expecting strictly humor from start to finish. Think more dramedy than comedy. There are some very dark moments, as one would expect given the subject matter of suicidal individuals, and some oddly real moments delivered most notably by Emma Adele Galvin as Max's sister, Sis. The most humorous scenes are those populated by the myriad of name actors in supporting roles. While Lorraine Bracco and David Paymer lend the most surreal aspect with their scenes the other supporting characters who populate the institution where Max and Grace meet are the real treat. Guillermo Diaz is a wanton scene stealer as the delightfully frenetic oddball, Hector. Ralf Moeller, as Bruno, acts as his straight man but has his own charm and appeal. Rosanna Arquette fully inhabits the role of Vera with the crass vitriol of an embittered truck stop waitress. Even her hardhearted character melts eventually, as does everyone who is touched by Max's literally undying love for Grace.
Can love conquer all might be the question behind the film and even though the realist within says no, movies are about an escape from reality, even if only for a few brief hours. I recommend seeing this film as an antidote to not just reality but to the cynicism that says that a love story like this never happens. Spending a few hours immersed in a world where it can and does works wonders on the psyche.
(Seattle International Film Festival - June 2005)