20 January 2012 | mbs
Sprawling Cassavettes Like Tale Of Anguished Young Woman's Guilt
The film is just over two and a half hours long and while it doesn't fly on by--it doesn't slowly crawl on by either. There are a lot of scenes that flow really really nicely into other scenes that might not have to do with the main plot line but seem to belong in the movie all the same. I can kind of see why the writer/director had trouble trimming it even at two and a half hours, its hard to tell where or what to trim since the main plot line of the movie isn't really the point so much as all the establishing things that contribute to Lisa's mood and state of mind as the movie progresses. (i think) If you're reading this you probably already know the main plot line--teenage girl Lisa causes massive bus accident resulting in a single death, and spends the rest of the movie both breaking down emotionally and trying to right what she feels she did wrong. (the accident is really, really not entirely her fault, but she feels enormous guilt just the same as she should) Anna Paquin gives an incredible performance here--i don't just mean that Paguin's performance is really emotional (which it is)--or that she feels like a real life teenager here (so confident in her rightness, so prone to outbursts when her rightness isn't so right) i mean that Paquin's performance really, pretty much completely single-handedly holds this entire jumble together into one coherent narrative--and for that she's almost like Kenneth Lonnigran's equivalent to Ben Gazzara here. We follow her as she runs into all sorts of people, and we follow her thru all of her mood swings and somewhat pointless arguments that she picks with some of these people, and completely well reasoned arguments that she picks with others...she's the kind of well intentioned but guilt racked protaginist you would expect to find in a novel or a play, or maybe a really good ongoing TV series--but definitely not a film with a definitive arc which is what makes her character that much more surprising.
The film really did call to mind some of John Cassavettes' films in both its rambling yet always moving forward (but never exactly straight forward) narrative and the many, many set pieces consisting of minute characters just talking....not to mention all the natrualistic scenes of Lisa just hanging out in her element. (meaning in school, with friends, arguing with her mom, etc) Movie is very very dialog heavy and yet somehow it never comes across as trying to strong-arm you into a specific point of view, at least until the last half hour or so--as its main character eventually and forcefully takes one on of her own.
This is a movie that for all of its strengths has plenty of weaknesses in it as well. For one thing I'm not sure what the heck Jean Reno is doing here exactly. I'm only slightly less curious about what the heck Matt Damon is doing here also. (was he supposed to be Lisa's moral compass? because his character doesn't really make any sense really. If there's one character who seems like he should have had more screen time it would have to be him) i'm not enitrely sure why we keep cutting back to Matthew Broderick who outside the scenes of him moderating English class debates (?!?!) doesn't seem to have much of a character to play. i'm not entirely sure the ending justified the extreme buildup--i'm also not sure how realistic that ending decision actually is either, but i'll let that go just because the movie had to have an ending. Even tho I enjoyed the constant cutting back to Lisa's mom's storyline (J Smith Cameron is pretty good here too i should point out)--i'm not even sure all of that was necessary to tell Lisa's story so thoroughly--even if the relationship between the mom and the daughter i think is supposed to be the backbone of the movie...and yet with all of these questionable elements just kind of thrown on in there one on top of the other, (like they're all so tightly wound together that it would be hard to pick one off without feeling like something was missing i should add)--- the movie does remain really quite watchable right up until the end--anchored very nicely by the excellent work of Anna Paquin so really that's a feat just by itself i think. This is a film that will be overrated by some, and too easily dismissed by many others...yet this definitely is a challenging film and one that i think should make a pretty good civics lesson to some high school/college students in the years ahead--provided schools are still teaching civics in the years ahead.