1 July 2009 | Chris_Docker
Doesn't quite take flight
A popular place to die in America is sitting in a diner. I only know this because of countless movies where people go into a diner, ostensibly for a cup of coffee, but basically so they can get shot. You think I'm kidding. They don't really go into diners to get shot. They go into diners so they can be immortalised in movies when they get shot. Remembered by millions. Either way, they get shot, and hopefully something else happens to make it interesting.
Fragments follows the lives of various people after one such incident in a diner. One woman becomes obsessively promiscuous. One man is convinced he has a miraculous power of luck at the casino tables. One teenager becomes obsessed with born-again Christianity. Another stops speaking. 24/7. The life of the waitress in the diner. The man who held the door open on the way out and let the killer in. Everyone is affected in different ways. Beneath the placid exteriors there is deep sorrow needing to come out.
At least that's the story. It is, unfortunately, only mildly interesting. Both the youngsters are played by charismatic individuals. Forest Whitaker works overtime to imbue his lamentable character with something worth watching. Kate Beckinsale is easy on the eye, even playing neurotically bedraggled. The list of names goes on, and includes many actors worthy of better material than this.
We tend in the UK to give bereavement short shrift. An hour or so over cheese and ham sandwiches at the funeral – then like any trauma that goes with it – it's supposed to be over. But although the American tradition is better at giving death its due, it is also more fond of the psychoanalyst's couch. And endlessly obsessing over one's worries. And endlessly expecting us to care. 'Get over it,' is not something a sensitive person would ever think, much less say to a friend. That each of these people eventually find an exit from their vicious cycle of senseless sorrow is more down to the determination to spin it out to feature length and then cut before we wonder what would happen if they had any real problems.
I would like to be more sympathetic to such navel gazing as eulogised in Fragments. But if the characters are in any way believable, it is very, very sad that they are so. This is an ensemble performance in the psychopathology of feeling over-dramatically sorry for oneself. Of being at the mercy of circumstances. In a frankly tedious, self-indulgent, predictably downward spiral of a film.
The movie is nicely bookended, starting with scenes of an abandoned kitchen montaged with respectable surburbania. It is meant to convey a suggestion that these horrors happen to 'nice' people too. The treatment of the two iconic US derangements – guns and religion – is refreshingly non-judgemental and manages a balancing act that neither supports nor opposes. The production values are generally good and it has the advantage of being a mainstream weepie that is neither sugary nor patronising towards the audience. The drama is well-paced, and if you can tolerate the storyline there is no reason why you shouldn't effortlessly while away some time in front of it (if my hard-hearted reservations haven't put you off).
From the viewpoint of dedicated cinema-goers, violence in diners has good and bad points. On the plus side, we get a lot of great movies. Like History of Violence. Or Natural Born Killers. And more gangster films than holes in Al Capone's raincoat. But of course there's sadness too. Subjecting your loved ones to Fragments would be a prime example.