Snow Angels
Okay, okay, I get it. You don’t want me hiding in the bushes outside your window.


Golden Mug

2008 GOLDEN MUG NOMINEE:

Best Adapted Screenplay (David Gordon Green (screenplay), Stewart O’Nan (novel))


Theatrical Release Date: 03/28/2007
Director: David Gordon Green
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell, Michael Angarano, Nicky Katt, Amy Sedaris, Olivia Thirlby

Director David Gordon Green is quickly rising to the very top of my list. After presenting a transcendent look at love and relationships in “All the Real Girls”, he went on to impress me with “Undertow”, where a young boy must escape the murderous clutches of an estranged uncle desperate to cash in on his family’s inheritance (that’s very oversimplified by the way).

Now, Green is back with “Snow Angels”. Once again set in a small community (and with a helping hand from “All the Real Girls” collaborator, David Wingo, to make the music match the tone perfectly), the film revolves around two families and their tenuous sets of relationships. First, there’s Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell. She worries his mental instability could bring harm to himself, to her or even their young daughter. Now separated, she cares for their daughter while running around with her best friend’s husband.

Then there’s Michael Angarano, whose parents are going through a separation of their own. Having to deal with their issues and also the burgeoning feelings for a new girl at school (Olivia Thirlby) would be enough for any teenager. Toss in his compassion for Beckinsale’s character, who used to babysit him (lucky bastard) but now works with him at a restaurant and you have the recipe for a truly overwhelmed individual, no matter their age.

The film progresses as each relationship bends or breaks. Some will get better but some only get worse and be prepared for a stormy portrayal of how hard it is to maintain intimate relationships. I appreciate films like this, coming more from the glass is broken and its contents are spilling into the gutter kind of perspective than that one where the glass is half full (preposterous I say).

Green makes sure to let the melancholy and anguish wash over the characters, at times allowing the camera to keep moving even though the characters have stopped, forcing the audience to focus not on what they see but on what is being said to the side. I found it a little annoying but I see what he was going for and can understand his perspective.

One thing I don’t ever seem to have to worry about with Green’s films are the performances of his actors. Like his previous efforts, here the actors all deliver strong performances and Green seems to be able to make it feel like there isn’t a camera in the room, it’s just the characters and the audience – coping with the situations at hand.

To that end, I will first commend Kate Beckinsale as this her finest performance by a mile, even topping her excellent work in one of my favorite films, “Laurel Canyon”. The frustration in her character about where her life has ended up comes through loud and clear. Her choices and circumstances have led her to become a caretaker, in every sense of the archetype; to her daughter, to her mother, to Angarano’s character, to the man she’s having an affair with, even to her separated husband who tried to commit suicide when they broke up.

It’s easy to see why she’s nearing a breaking point and once the wheels start coming off, her strained relationship with Rockwell creates a tension towards the finale of the film that may have you holding your breath.

Speaking of Rockwell, he was perfectly cast for the role. His usual, fragmented delivery style lends itself so well to that of a troubled father, who feels like he’s losing his family and has no way of getting them back. He tries to cope with his faith in Christianity, often resorting to prayer and ritual to handle tough times. This only works for so long and it is the unpredictability of his character that holds the reigns for the tense conclusion of the film.

Angarano, whose previous work isn’t all that impressive (even though I enjoyed the fluffy “Sky High“), makes his character very believable and real. He is characteristically mad at the world (as most teenagers are) and as the story unfolds, he makes a startling discovery revolving around Beckinsale’s troubles. At that point, Angarano takes his character to an even higher level, possibly placing him in the running for a nomination in my annual Golden Mugs Awards.

All of the other actors do a fine job of rounding out the shattered relationships on display. I especially want to give kudos to Amy Sedaris for playing a dramatic role with wonderful sincerity and to Olivia Thirlby (who most people might recognize as the best friend in “Juno“); she has a lot of projects in the works and you may be witnessing an actress whose star is on the rise if these two performances are any indication of what we should expect in the future.

All of that smoke being blown up Green’s rectum is nice and all – that doesn’t mean the film is without some flaws. Both Beckinsale and Rockwell have complicated relationships with their parent(s). While it’s probably more accurate in such a tight-knit community to relate this aspect, considering their involvement as the film draws to a close, they felt a little tangential. A closing scene involving some of them especially feels out of place and more like a non-sequitur than anything resembling closure.

Also, Green spends all this time painting such a dour picture of the characters’ relationships that when one of them ends on a hint at reconciliation, it feels forced; as if he wanted to keep from making the film too dark. I could understand that given certain circumstances, but due to the manner of Beckinsale and Rockwell’s tumultuous storyline, it took the air out of the bag more than it balanced the scales … and did I mention it seemed forced?

Make no mistake, this isn’t a happy film and if you’re looking for silver linings, there aren’t many to be found. Of course, that’s just the way I like it so no problem there. I’m giving “Snow Angels” a 4 out of 5, tipping it an extra point for not pulling certain punches that a typical film would in order to satiate test audiences.

If you’re looking for a melancholy examination of broken relationships and desperate people, this is the film for you and unless you need a film to be filled with “ponies that eat rainbows and poop butterflies”, try to catch this one. I think it’s good to have some cold water poured over our warm and fuzzy feelings now and then.