30 October 2006 | EUyeshima
Good Cast Cannot Hide Story Deficiencies in an Omnibus Look at Post-9/11 Trauma
It's admirable that director Danny Leiner and screenwriter Sam Catlin have attempted to tackle the inarticulate emotional toll that 9/11 has taken on a group of New Yorkers rather than tell a more visceral story directly related to the tragedy (like Paul Greengrass' "United 93" or Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center"). Unfortunately, the filmmakers' intended cathartic exercise falls significantly short due to a too-subtle patchwork narrative and the film's relentlessly enervating pace. Five unconnected stories begin a year after 9/11, and we are taken through the characters' paces in dealing with some form of emotional denial. The most pertinent thread is initially the most comic one in which a seemingly well-adjusted office worker named Sandie talks to a sardonic psychologist, Dr. Trabulous, about the impact of the tragedy.
The other episodes are somewhat more removed from the events of that day - Avi and Satish, a couple of bickering Indian security agents overseeing the speaking engagement of a foreign diplomat; a married couple, David and Allison, whose overweight adolescent son Charlie has become socially dysfunctional; Judie, an older woman in Brooklyn quietly seething about her tedious marriage as she seeks the company of Jerry, an old schoolmate; and an upscale cake designer named Emme who is trying to land a big client at the expense of her famous rival, Safarah. None of the stories really connect with each other except for a rather contrived scene in an elevator, though that seems to be the filmmakers' point, that the scope of 9/11 affected each of their immediate situations in idiosyncratic ways. The movie only runs 87 minutes, but it takes at least an hour for the stories to take shape toward some common dramatic point. Even then, it still feels too nebulous to make a resonant emotional impact, and consequently, the opportunity for catharsis feels frittered away.
It's not for the lack of a good cast. Stand-up comic Jim Gaffigan brings out Sandie's inner torment palpably as Tony Shalhoub listens with oblique bemusement; Maggie Gyllenhaal displays the steely shallowness of Emme as she faces an unexpected turn; Naseeruddin Shah and Sharat Saxena dexterously show their characters' opposing views on life and what secrets may lie beneath; Judy Greer and Tom McCarthy bring surprising depth to a couple confounded by their son's eruptive violence; and Olympia Dukakis is stoic strength personified as Judie. Edie Falco has nothing more than a cameo as Safarah, but her moments count. New York City is captured crisply by cinematographer Harlan Bosmajian on high-definition video. The DVD has a rather informal but somewhat interesting commentary track by Leiner and Catlin, as well as several deleted scenes and unused footage of the city. An intriguing extra is the ability to watch each of the five episodes separately as individual shorts. There is also the theatrical trailer, a gallery of stills accompanied by the soundtrack, and a helpful blurb about the outreach program organized to deal with post-9/11 trauma.