Sunday, March 16, 2008

Yellow Snow Angels

Some will fall. Some will fly. And some will go, "eh?"

David Gordon Green's adaptation of Stewart O'Nan's "Snow Angels" is a disjointed mess of muddled narratives and character development. Billed as a film "dealing with the loss of innocence in a small town," it's a poor man's "Ice Storm" sans convincing character arcs, palatable melodrama, or any semblance of the aforementioned 'innocence.'

With Sam Rockwell, (a surprisingly effective) Kate Beckinsale, Michael Angarano, Amy Sedaris, Olivia Thirlby, and Nicky Katt in the cast, it was discouraging to find such capable actors be reduced to such overly simplistic material.

For Rockwell fans, it's business as usual: here Rockwell's emotionally unstable husband plays foil to Beckinsale's immoral wife- a seemingly unseemly battle of the wills to see who can be more self absorbed. Caught in the crossfire of this dysfunctional union is their adorable little daughter, who more or less is treated like a narrative chew toy, at times accentuating Rockwell & Beckinsale's parental humanity; at others merely a disposable annoyance.

Therein lies the film's fatal flaw: it's inability to genuinely make its characters earn their emotional journeys while still keeping us locked in.

Supposedly the novel's original emphasis was placed on the character of Arthur (well played by youngin Michael Angarano) and his loss of innocence growing up and dealing with the local drama of his former babysitter (played by Beckinsale). Which would make sense...if Green's direction didn't attempt to make a single narrative into a multi-pronged monster of misshapen multiplicity.

Whereas Ang Lee masterfully weaved the respective experiences of the children and adults coming of age in the "Ice Storm," here Green's effort feels forced, if not altogether confused. Illuminating the burgeoning romance between Angarano and (whip-smart though thankfully not annoying "Juno" BFF) Thirlby would have been effective if contrasted with the disintegration of Arthur's parents and the dysfunction of Rockwell and Beckinsale. Instead, the teenage romance is treated like an afterthought, just as Arthur's parent's separation is treated like a crappily written Lifetime Movie of the Week.

Which brings us to Rockwell and Beckinsale. I love Sam Rockwell for the same reason most people love Rockwell- he defines the word kooky. Whether it's cruising around the galaxy, masquerading as a game show host/CIA agent, or just being plain crazy- Rockwell is fucking glorious.

Yet in "Angels," his performance seems like a waste, playing the sympathetic, albeit insufferably insecure/suicidal husband whose sole existence appears dependent on the affection of his equally immature and self absorbed wife. His narrative journey is one not defined by progression or regression, but of jutting, swift descents into psychosis that make him over the top, if not cartoon-like. Green's resolution for Rockwell is more like a cop-out than a natural motion, using religiosity as a scapegoat for something that could have been better structured.

Speaking of structure- Beckinsale's admirable dramatic turn is also wasted in Green's inability to discern the direction of Annie's character. She's flirtatious with Arthur, skeevy with Nicky Katt (who always does skeevy well), condescendingly sympathetic towards Rockwell, and maddeningly nonchalant towards her daughter. It would be easy to blame to Beckinsale's unproven chops ("Serendipity"; "Underworld") for the unevenness of the character, but almost no actress could overcome the shortcomings of a deeply flawed script.

"Angels" does have it's successful flourishes, such as the refreshing sweetness of Angarano and Thirbly, Nicky Katt's man-whore comic relief, or the Rockwell's oneness with Last Call.

In the end, "Snow Angels" is a film supposedly about a loss of innocence, yet it drowns in its immaturity, sloppily building up to a climax that is amazingly mundane and disappointingly predictable. Unlike a snowman erected on the first day of fresh snow, "Snow Angels" is the depressing three days after the snowfall snowman made by the deadbeat weekend dad-not enough ice, with too much dirt and unstable yellow snow.

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