Downloading Nancy
Hold that thought.

Golden Mug

Actress (Maria Bello)

Theatrical Release Date: 06/05/2009
Director: Johan Renck
Cast: Maria Bello, Jason Patric, Rufus Sewell, Amy Brenneman

To no one’s surprise, I enjoy films that explore despair, dysfunctionality, emotional pain and suffering. One such film is “Downloading Nancy”. Starring Maria Bello as a Nancy, a woman who has been twisted and scarred through sexual abuse as a child and enduring an emotionally disconnected marriage (to Rufus Sewell), she now finds comfort in life only through cutting herself and planning to leave this world for good. She finds a man (Jason Patric) via the Internet willing to help and the film moves back and forth through time to tell her story, how she stumbles through what’s left of her life like an emotional zombie and how it affects the two men in her life.

Obviously, this isn’t a film that you pop into your DVD player on a sunny day when you’re looking to laugh. Director Johan Renck manages to maintain a somber tone from start to finish, never resorting to cheap tricks like escapist laughter in order to lighten the mood. He’s helped wonderfully by Krister Linder’s score, a haunting electronic soundtrack reminiscent of the one by Decoder Ring for the Aussie film “Somersault” but without any of the hopeful bits thrown in.

Maria Bello gives one of, if not her best, performance ever. She never betrays her character to something that resembles hope or optimism – constantly miring herself in misery and pain, wanting nothing but release. This isn’t a decision she’s come to lightly and backing out at this point would only be perpetuating her hollow life, making pain the only thing she can feel until the end comes. Bello throws herself headlong into the abyss here, convincingly showcasing how her character can be so full of passion and yet so numb all at the same time.

Scenes between Bello and Amy Brenneman, who plays her therapist, add a wonderful layer to Nancy. Through the sessions, we see that Nancy isn’t without options, isn’t without support (even if it doesn’t come from her husband apparently). However, instead of reinforcing the idea that change can happen, Nancy sees these sessions as a sign of weakness; they are her last effort to escape her troubled mind and end up someplace where good things can happen to her – even if they rarely have before.

Just as Bello must spend her time on-screen in pain, hoping for a chance to finally feel nothing, Jason Patric is almost the complete opposite. He’s got his share of pain, stemming from a broken marriage and the inability to see his own kids, and sees in Nancy a chance to rekindle some of those feelings – even as he’s agreed to help her end all the suffering. Over the course of months spent e-mailing and engaging in cybersex, he’s bonded to her; his willingness to go through with her wishes becomes tangled in a messy set of emotions that Patric deftly wades through.

Completing the triangle of misery, Rufus Sewell is the absent husband. He loves Nancy … he just doesn’t know how to show it. Rather than say comforting words or physically show his affections, he withdraws into his work or hides behind a mask of indifference. Sewell beautifully layers the role, at first only giving the audience the notion that he’s a neglectful spouse but as the film continues on, we see him trapped within himself, struggling to come out and express his true emotions.

“Downloading Nancy” is a downer, completely self-absorbed in its loneliness and pain … which is why I found it so genuine and moving. A strong 4 out of 5, if you’re looking to explore the sadder side of the emotional spectrum, this film will definitely fit the bill. Just don’t blame me if that smile you had on your face doesn’t come back for a little while.