Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Don't Fade Away: A Son's Journey

Starring: Mischa Barton, Ryan Kwanten, Beau Bridges, Ja Rule
Category: Drama, Romance
This is a beautiful, powerful drama on life, love, friendship and the business of living. Jackson is a music executive losing his star client, survives a mugging and finds out that his father is dying. Already having lost his mother, Jackson realizes what is important in life and decides to do the right thing. He drops everything and goes home to Asheville, North Carolina (which according to IMDB has seen quite a number of movies made there). But Asheville is in the sticks and far removed from LA, where Jackson is calling home now.
He is at a crossroads in his life but decides that taking care of his father is more important than taking a fork in that road. He puts off his life and decides to face some of the history he has left behind. His father's mortality has him re-evaluating his life up to that point. Whatever doubts he expresses, his father has great faith in him and is proud of him nonetheless.
Jackson reluctantly reconnects with old friends and old wounds are re-opened. Jackson meets Kat, a girl who worked at his father's office and is drawn to her as she is to him. He can't understand why she would be interested in him other than having a common love for his father. But time ultimately draws them inevitably closer and soon he has to make a decision, to take one of the forks in the road of his life journey. I won't spoil the ending because for some people, they wished the movie would have just ended there. The director/writer has all right to end it any way he wishes. But the way he chooses to end it shows what the movie is or who it's for. 
Acting was great all around. But Ryan Kwanten and Mischa Barton's really stood out. Ryan's acting signals clearly that he is leading-man material. His character showed genuine remorse and concern for his father. Always underneath whatever he was doing, was his concern about his job and his career. It surfaces and clashes with Kat's carefree but meaningful outlook on life and that is how they first connect. Kat, while seemingly carefree, carries her own burden. She realizes who she has become and feels powerless to stop it. Yet with Jackson, she finds a kindred spirit, someone who is also dealing with his demons that threaten to derail his life. Together they find solace and strength.
Supporting cast also didn't let the story down, living their characters as if they had been so all their lives.
The movie has two things going for it other than lead actors. First, it had an interesting story structure. It is a story of coming home to find oneself. But also is also a reflection of sorts into the past. There are flashbacks that seem strange and dream-like. As the movie progresses, it seems like the story is breaking apart at the seams and at the end it looks like it's taking a different turn. But the twist in the end ties it all up together. It's just not what the audience expects and hopes. Second, it features great music. Sometimes it would "bleed" into the story. You would think that the music is background music and suddenly the character would point it out or make a comment on it. It happens quite a few times that you become more aware of the music and songs.

What made the movie more realistic to me was the locations. They were just beautiful, natural and often rustic. It really shows how far they were from the big cities, even the suburbs. Cinematography was really good and emphasized each location. The look of the movie was given as this dull, cold spring day. The size of the area and the rural-ness of it was emphasized by the numerous driving sequences in between locations. The characters would be shown driving for a time to go to someplace to eat or meet some. I used to live in Western New York and those driving sequences really brought back memories. Especially the thought of "How long before we get there?"
This movie was good but a disaster in some ways, perhaps enough to sink it. Ways that had nothing to with the movie itself but the business of making movies. Apparently the production was not up to the mark. For whatever reason, this was a bad experience for the extras and people weren't paid or not paid enough or had trouble getting paid. Production was a mess judging from the comments on the IMDB message boards. It wasn't promoted properly and ended up as a straight to DVD in some markets. Maybe the producers ran out of money. Which was a shame because the movie is truly good. 
But that could just have been the tip of the iceberg. There are a lot of other reasons why this movie wasn't picked up. It promotes medical marijuana and slams the christian right. Jackson's parents were a mixed religion marriage, something that often happens but not often talked about. Jackson was raised Jewish by his mother while his father was Catholic. There goes the Mid-West and the Bible belt audiences. The movie also suggests that music execs have souls, losing the intellectual audiences on the coast. To top that off (spoiler alert) it has an ending that was neither here nor there and promotes a totally new view on the afterlife. The remaining Christian viewers just left the theater after that. 
Ultimately the ending was more the expression of the writer/director's view about life and death. Especially  what death is and really means. The movie has a dedication, so it could have been a way for the director to deal with that loss. Perhaps it was someone very close to him. For once,  I hoped for a Hollywood ending. At least an ambiguous one, where both characters live on with their lives, enriched by their experience. But in the end, I felt the movie was for the director himself and his effort to deal with death. So where does that leave the audience?
I wouldn't go so far as to say that the audience was cheated but I don't blame them if they did feel so. It had a very M. Night / Keyser Söze ending, that would normally send the audience back to watch the movie again with a different eye. But it ends up as a sucker punch to audience, leaving some to question the point of the movie. The twist in the end basically negates the investment of the audience in the movie rather then enhances it like the Sixth Sense or The Usual Suspects
I still do recommend the movie. But do a reverse Dark City. Stop watching it when Jackson is reunited with Kat on the roof and newspapers begin swirling around them. You will thank me later. 

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