Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Two movies: one small; the other smaller

Ciaran Hinds and Lena Morelle in shadows cast by grief.
Inconclusiveness seldom qualifies as a dramatic virtue, but in the slender and delicately mounted Irish movie, The Eclipse, unanswered questions become an enhancement. Director Conor McPherson, who usually writes plays and directs theater, sets up a drama involving three characters who meet during the course of a literary festival that's being held in the tiny Irish seaport town of Cobh. Ciaran Hinds plays a local widower and shop teacher who each year volunteers to chauffeur visiting authors around town. Hinds' Michael is haunted (perhaps literally) by ferocious visions that seem connected to the death of his late wife. Lena Morelle plays a visiting writer who's unsure of her talent, and Aidan Quinn portrays a successful novelist who had a fling with Morelle's character at a previous festival. He's married. Although it includes several vividly depicted, horror-movie style apparitions, The Eclipse probably is best understood as a narrow-gauged drama about the lingering power of undigested grief. As such, the story belongs mostly to Hinds' Michael -- the father of two kids -- who must find a way to renew his shattered life. Don't look for anything earth shaking, but know that McPherson -- working from a script by Billy Roche -- convincingly explores the needs, crippling and otherwise, of characters who are carefully sketched in both writing and performance.


Zoe Kazan explores a life that's neither here nor there.

Sometimes a drama can be so small that it feels infinitesimal. That's definitely the case with the cataclysmically titled The Exploding Girl, a look at the life of an epileptic college student who's visiting her mother during a break from school. Zoe Kazan plays Ivy, a young woman who invites a friend from school (Mark Rendall) to stay at her mother's apartment during summer vacation. Rendall's Al moves in with Ivy and her busy mom (Maryann Urbano) because his parents didn't expect him home for the summer and rented his room. Director Bradley Rust Gray fills his movie with halting cell phone conversations between Ivy and her boyfriend, a fellow student who's clearly en route to breaking up with her. Both Ivy and Al spend an awful lot of time deflecting anything that resembles the direct expression of emotion. Credit Kazan, who played a secretary with whom Leonardo DiCaprio had an affair in Revolutionary Road, with holding the screen despite the uneventfulness of the material. Gray gives us a feeling for characters who are adrift at a time before their lives have taken real shape, but these same characters, having yet to find their footing, don't always make for the most compelling companions.

No comments: