Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Review: "The Life Before Her Eyes"

I'm a little late getting around to this one. I've wanted to see it for a while, but just never got around to it. Vadim Perelman's last film, House of Sand and Fog, was a movie I liked more for Ben Kingsley's earth-shattering performance than anything else (he should have won the Best Actor Oscar for it in 2003). I respected parts of it, but overall it was Kingsley who moved me and not the film, but I felt Perelman showed potential.

I was hoping for something better with his latest film, The Life Before Her Eyes, but alas, it was not to be. Like House of Sand and Fog before it, Life Before Her Eyes wallows in its sorrows like a house guest brought over for a nice weekend retreat and won't stop talking about how their wife just left them. I have no problem with sad movies, or movies that have a downbeat ending, in fact I generally like them. There is nothing I enjoy more than watching a film that has some kind of deep emotional effect on me. But Perelman's films treat the audience like emotional children, laying on in such broad heavy handed strokes, as if he's afraid the audience won't understand the gravity of the situations unless he beats us over the head with a sledgehammer.

That is one of the biggest problems with The Life Before Her Eyes, there is nothing subtle about it, although it obviously thinks there is. It takes the story of the survivor of a Columbine-like school shooting, and shows us the events leading up to it as a young woman (Evan Rachel Wood), and how she is affected by it later as an adult (Uma Thurman). The film cuts back and forth between the two time periods, as the fiery, independent young Diana gets ever closer to her fateful encounter with the school shooter in a bathroom, and older Diana's unraveling life getting closer to the anniversary of the killings, and whose own daughter (who seems far too old to be the age she is supposed to be playing) is becoming more and more like her tempestuous mother every day.

But the stories never really go anywhere, and by the time we get to the end, the movie throws in a gimmicky twist that throws everything off and makes it all even more of a waste so that the more you think about it, the less sense it makes. Some critics have pointed out that it would make a better literary device, which is probably true. But here it feels manipulative and contrived, taking an eye-rolling M. Night Shyamalan "gotcha" path that is neither emotionally honest or satisfying.

The film is certainly beautiful to look at. Perelman has a penchant for filling his films with random transitional shots that don't add much to the narrative, but are beautiful nonetheless. James Horner's score is also quite good, adding haunting sonic textures when the movie fails to engage the audience.

But without a Ben Kingsley to come along and save the movie, The Life Before Her Eyes falls flat under the weight of its own self importance. It is a dour, downbeat affair, where characters spend a lot of time being depressed emotional train wrecks for, ultimately, no good reason. It takes us on a useless journey that goes nowhere, emotionally or narrative-wise, using ridiculous, new-agey self-help dialogue to try and add depth, but it doesn't work. It's just another "Debbie Downer" who can't seem to give a reason as to why it's so depressed.

GRADE - ** (out of four)

THE LIFE BEFORE HER EYES; Directed by Vadim Perelman; Stars Uma Thurman, Evan Rachel Wood, Sherman Alpert, Eva Amurri, Gabrielle Brennan; Rated R for violent and disturbing content, language and brief drug use

2 comments:

nick plowman said...

Aw shucks, I was hoping it wasn't as bad as people are saying...I won't go outta my way to see it.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this film. I didn't think it was a waste of time but time well spent.