30 May 2006 | roland-104
Overheated TV Soap
When the former assistant to a deceased eminent academic comes to pay his respects to the great man's family, the visit stirs old, half hidden conflicts and triggers an avalanche of emotions in this overheated, theatrical drawing room drama based on Anton Chekhov's play, "The Three Sisters." (Richard Alfieri wrote the screenplay, which he adapted from his own updating of Chekhov's play.) Maria Bello, Mary Stuart Masterson and Erika Christensen play, respectively, Marcia, Olga and Irene, the three Prior daughters.
Ms. Bello holds center stage most of the time, hurling one angry speech after another at just about anyone in shouting distance (though they're all in one room). She is angry primarily because her father systematically abused her sexually as a child, second because Harry Glass (Steven Culp), the psychologist she married, has not been able to heal her deeply wounded personality, and, finally and most recently, because Vincent Antonelli (Tony Goldwyn), the visitor, a man she become instantly infatuated with, turns down her overtures and leaves.
Baby sister Irene turns her hostility inward, and galvanizes everyone's attention by taking a large drug overdose. Andrew Prior (Alessandro Nivola), their brother, is angry too, but in sneakier fashion. He's mad because his sisters bully him and dislike his fiancée/bride Nancy (Elizabath Banks), who's also a nasty sort, someone deserving of the sisters' contempt. Then there's the incendiary social science professor, Gary Sokol (Eric McCormack), whose explosive behavior never ceases. Sokol's mad because Irene prefers another suitor, Sokol's erstwhile buddy, philosophy professor David Turzin (Chris O'Donnell), who doesn't seem to be mad at anyone. Olga, a bleak, unfulfilled Lesbian, at least keeps her unhappiness contained. She is the most dignified member of the family.
Somehow the veteran actor Rip Torn got himself inserted into this literal madhouse as old Professor Chebrin. And while Mr. Torn has been memorably hostile in some of his films (he's played gangsters, tough soldiers, tougher cops, Richard Nixon and even Judas Iscariot among 165 roles spanning a 50 year career), he's quite the good humored, sanguine fellow here, almost alone as a source of equanimity in these proceedings.
The screenplay is freighted with long, formalized verbal oratorios: these people don't talk like people talk. Such verbiage works on stage but is nearly always poison on the screen. The director, Mr. Seidelman, has made nearly 70 films, but almost all for television. This may explain the overacted, soap operatic tone of this movie. You've got to shout it out to be heard above the din of family life on the boob-tube. But the clamor of this film is ratcheted up way too much for pleasurable viewing on the big screen. (The IMDb says this film is 113 minutes long, so somewhere along the line 28 minutes got cut to create the version I viewed. Probably a good thing.) My Grade: 5/10 C