Sunday, 13 February 2011
Snow Angels (2008) dir. David Gordon Green
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell, Michael Angarano, Olivia Thirlby, Griffin Dunne
By Alan Bacchus
Before he even reached 30, David Gordon Green has delivered three unique and personal auteur films, “George Washington”, “All the Real Girls” and “Undertow”. Unfortunately “Snow Angels” is his first failure – a depressing small-town character film represents a new benchmark in the ‘life sucks’ genre of films.
“Snow Angels”, based on the Stewart O’Nan’s novel of the same name, is set in small town Pennsylvania. It’s a depressed environment inhabited by depressed people. There’s Annie (Kate Beckinsale), a separated single mom working a dead end job as a waitress in a crappy diner. Annie’s separated husband is Glenn (Sam Rockwell) who’s even farther down in the dumps, living with his parents, jobless and recovering from a suicide attempt. Arthur Parkinson’s (Michael Angarano) parents are also going through separation, which has him in the dumps as well. Arthur's only respite is a burgeoning high school crush with a cute wallflower Lila (Olivia Thirlby). A local tragedy sends these characters into further despair which will eventually result in violence and more tragedy.
I appreciate a little of bit depression on screen. If it provokes proper emotional response, the film has done its job. But depression has to be part of the ebb and flow of the narrative and play against emotions of joy and happiness. But in “Snow Angels” things start low and get lower and lower and lower, until in the very end the actions of the characters are so dire and destructive, it becomes an exercise in torture.
Green has an affinity for ‘regular people’ in America – the working and underrepresented classes. And in “Snow Angels” his actors deliver these natural unHollywood performances. I think everyone knows one or more people like Glenn. Sam Rockwell plays him as a man who may have been one of the popular guys in high school, and even wedded the hottest girl in school. But without drive and motivation, success in life never moved past the scope of the town. I appreciate Rockwell as an actor, but he’s a scenery-chewer and in this film his reliance on mumbling speech and ‘actor’s business’ is especially distracting. In the second half of the film when things start to go really bad, Green turns Glenn from a natural character to movie character. He’s given no less than three rambling drunkard scenes, which essentially ruin the film. Kate Beckinsale gives a fine performance as Annie. And even though she’s still stunning beneath the atrocious outfits she has to wear, she is believable as the confused mother.
The film fails in the third act when the film goes into darker places it doesn’t need to go. After the tragedy the film has an opportunity to build back up its characters. Instead they are agonizingly beaten down to such disparity the film becomes as torturous to the audience as the characters.