Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Like Dandelion Dust (2010)

Should I see it?


Disclaimer: I need to acknowledge that the producers of this film also operate ChristianCinema.com, a site which reposts some of my reviews.  I have no financial or other business interest in this production and am reviewing this as I would any other film.

I did not have high expectations.  This is a "Christian film" about families and parenting and whatnot.  Heck, it has a dang flower in its title.  When I sat down I was prepping myself for an overwrought flick with more cheese than the Wisconsin State Fair.

I was wrong.

This is a strong movie from opening to close.  It is very impressive and I expect it will do well.

Rip Porter (Barry Pepper) has just returned from a 7-year stint in the hoosegow for beating the Mrs.  His wife, the grossly over-optimistic Wendy (Mira Sorvino), has waited for him to finish his sentence.  Apparently, Rip was sweet for a moment prior to the drinking and the pummeling, as Wendy was pregnant when he was sent off to jail.  While he was locked up, she adopted out their baby son.

When Rip returns he learns of the adoption and due to a paperwork error, is allowed to demand his child back.   Rip's son, Joey (Maxwell Perry Cotton) currently has an idyllic life with a loving mother Molly (Kate Levering) and a wealthy, attentive father Jack (Cole Hauser).  The state sides with the Porters and Joey is forced to begin visitations prior to his eventual permanent relocation to the set of Hee-Haw. 

This conflict may seem to be a little inorganic - it is.  There are many moments where the film has to stop and characters explain why this logical conclusion won't work or this logical course of action can't be taken.  It is a distraction.  I found it to be a forgivable one given that this stark conflict is undeniably engaging (in particular for parents) and provides rich ground for the actors.

I give a great deal of credit to director Jon Gunn (Mercy Streets).  Gunn has shown an even hand for material that many directors would have overplayed.  In some cases he allows his scenes to slip towards melodrama (it is pretty much unavoidable) but just enough to tugs at the audience.  For the most part, his patient delivery allows his scenes to develop naturally.  This allows his actors the space they need to work and to flesh out their characters.  The result is a cast-wide performance that rivals anything you're going to see this year.  Usually you will find one, perhaps two strong performances in a film.  Here, the entire cast is outstanding.  Even in what amounts to a minor role as the hapless State Agent with a heart of gold, actress L. Scott Caldwell provides a very human, convincing performance.  Usually, this kind of role is functionary and forgettable.  She had me feeling sorry for her - rooting for her to do the right thing. 

The main cast is very strong and provides Oscar-worthy performances. Mira Sorvino and Barry Pepper will likely get wide praise for their work - and they should.  They managed the hard task of making Rip and Wendy into something other than slack-jawed hicks and give them a wider appeal.  This is not an easy task given that they are not presented as being villains, but troubled people wanting an better life.  They are committing a wrong, but Pepper/Sorvino make us still sympathize with their cause.  How often can you say you've watched a movie and you could find yourself rooting for the wrong people to win?

Countering Sorvino and Pepper is Cole Hauser and Kate Levering.  Hauser is the real surprise in the film.  From what I have seen, most of his previous roles have not provided him with much dramatic depth to explore - there is only so far one can go with productions like The Cave or 2 Fast 2 Furious. In this film, Hauser shows that he has often been underused.  Jack is not a simple character.  Jack is given all of the action for his family's side of the conflict (Molly is a reactionary presence).  Hauser needs to both be likable enough for us to want Joey to end up with Jack.  Conversely he also needs to be a big enough jerk for Rip and Wendy to fuel our sympathy for them as well.  Hauser balances these conflicting goals and gives what I see as the best performance in a cast full of memorable performances.

I've complained for years the Christian film has been too focused on the sermon and not enough on the audience.  This film is a perfect example of what Christian filmmakers should be doing - MAKING GOOD MOVIES WORTH WATCHING.  We need more Christians filmmakers and less Christian films and this production is a good example of what that looks like.

This is a relatively small film.  It may not yet be playing at your local multiplex.  It should be.  To find a showing near you, follow this link: http://www.likedandeliondust.com/index.php?page=theaters.php.

Visit the official website: http://www.likedandeliondust.com

Click here to buy your copy of 
You Are What You See:
Watching Movies Through a Christian Lens

No comments: