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USA 2004
Directed by
Joshua Sternfeld
89 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Lee Young
3.5 stars

Winter Solstice

Synopsis: Jim Winters (Anthony LaPaglia) is a widower raising two teenage sons in a modest New Jersey home in a sleepy New Jersesy town. He's doing his best to keep his family together, though it is hard due to their lack of communication. Jim finally begins to emerge from his withdrawn life when new neighbour Molly Ripken (Allison Janney) moves into the area.

Joshua Sternfeld's impressive debut feature is the epitome of the 'slice of life' drama. For 89 minutes we are invited to share in the lives of Jim Winter's and his disaffected sons, Gabe and Pete (Aaron Stanford and Mark Webber). Jim is a moderately successful landscape architect, turning down caring offers for blind dates. Gabe is a grocery packer who is obviously unhappy with his lot in life. And Pete is a troubled student at high school who picks fights in convenience store parking lots for kicks. These three (almost) men have little more in common than the roof they live under and the lingering grief they share for their wife/mother, though they'd all be in the running for an award for hiding one's true feelings. It takes the candid kindness of outsider Molly Ripken for the Winter men to finally express how they feel. Jim actually longs for companionship. Gabe decides to leave town and head for sunny Florida and Pete is, in fact, much smarter than he lets anyone know. And with the blooming Spring comes some hope that the slump may finally be at an end.

Winter Solstice has no major events to speak of, no real beginning and certainly no climax, but interest in these characters is sustained thanks to some beautiful dialogue and honest performances from all the cast. Anthony Lapaglia plays Jim Winter with a gentle but firm touch. His love for his sons is almost palpable. Aaron Stanford as Gabe meanders through the film with an honest but dissatisfied longing in all his actions. Even though the character of Molly Ripken is little more than a device to bring the men together, the ever-watchable Allison Janney gives Molly a history and personality perfectly attuned to the mood of the piece. But it is Mark Webber as Pete who leaves the strongest impression. A weedy kind of guy, Webber gives Pete a strength that is obviously a fašade hiding the depths of his heartbreak over the loss of his mother.

Sternfeld's eye for detail is much appreciated. The Winter house and the surrounding suburb have a genuine lived-in look. Each environment maintains its own unique mood and feel. From the convenience store to the local basketball court, each space feels as though it can tell a story or two of its own.

This film is not for everybody, but for those willing to look through a window into a perfectly recognisable family and all its strengths and weaknesses, perhaps they will genuinely learn a thing or two. Others may just fall asleep. But rather than being boring Winter Solstice is more a reflection of the conservative, inward-looking times in which we live.




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