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USA 2001
Directed by
Rose Troche
121 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Ruth Williams
2.5 stars

The Safety Of Objects

Synopsis: We are invited into the lives of four families over a period of four days. Esther Gold (Glenn Close) still grieves over the accident that resulted in her son relying on a life support system to survive. Her daughter, Julie (Jessica Campbell), and husband, Howard (Robert Klein), are like ghosts in the background who only serve to remind her of what she has lost. Annette Jennings (Patricia Clarkson) is attempting to survive a messy divorce and create some semblance of normality for her more-than-normal daughters. Jim Train (Dermot Mulroney) is passed over for partnership in the law firm he has dedicated himself to for too many years at the expense of family life. Helen Christianson (Mary Kay Place) after raising three children and supporting her husband, has got to a point in her life where she wants to look after herself for a change. Then there’s the gorgeous handyman, Randy (Timothy Olyphant) who you really want to trust, but there’s just something about him that doesn’t engender such a response.

I don’t envy any film-maker the task of telling the stories of such a range of characters within the two hour time slot. Rose Troche’s third feature starts well but there’s too many people and too little time (Troche interwove six separate short stories by A.M.Homes to make the script for her film). Fast cutting between one family and the next and the next and the next, sets the scene. They’re a great bunch of characters. I would have been quite happy to follow any of them into their living rooms. And it is impressive how much effort Troche has put into creating a screenplay that allowed the lives of the four families to intertwine, as well as providing a narrative thread to carry the theme of the film.

Then why doesn’t it work? In Go Fish, Troche’s first feature, she tackled the ups and downs of the lesbian lifestyle. Shot in black and white, despite behind-the-scenes problems and budget blow-outs, it felt real. This time, Troche tries too hard with too many characters forced into a contrived contiguity. It looks as good as any big budget film, but it lacks real feeling. Something must be missing if even the death of a dearly-loved child doesn’t hit home.

In better films, the characters don’t have to have anything in common with us other than being human for us to feel empathy for them. In Talk To Her, Pedro Almodovar did the relationship between a comatose patient and the carer better. In All About My Mother, he did the relationship between a mother and the death of her son shockingly better. I wanted the film to surprise me, to show me an aspect of life in the 'burbs for Middle America in a way that we haven’t yet seen. Instead, she wrote her message on a train wall in graffiti, "Why is man nothing without a purpose?"

Sometimes it’s better to leave the viewer to work it out for themselves.

FYI:  An 11 year-old Kristen Stewart made her first credited screen appearance. 




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