Join me on another trip down Suburban Hell avenue. Over there are your drug-addicted (yet always wise beyond their years) teenagers; right next door are the lyin' cheatin' parent-folk and their deep, dark secrets. You'll notice an omnipresent haze of sarcasm and irony in the air, and be sure to keep your eyes peeled for a few quick doses of sex, physical abuse, and (maybe) just a little incest. Bring a coat.
For those who desperately want to wring a few stray drops from the cloth used to create American Beauty, The Ice Storm, Your Friends and Neighbors, and just about any other indie-fest flick you can recall, have a big swig of Dan Harris' Imaginary Heroes - a movie more than a little full of characters as mildly despicable as they are oh-so-angst-laden.
Emile Hirsch is an undersized high school senior named Tim Travis. Tim's big brother recently killed himself, and obviously it's torn a big hole in the (already strained) family unit. Parents Ben (Jeff Daniels) and Sandy (Sigourney Weaver) are dealing with the tragedy in their own self-serving way: Ben retreats into a cocoon is bitterness and isolation, while Sandy tries to remain pragmatic while fostering a newfound taste for marijuana. And that leaves Tim (oh, and his perpetually absent and therefore fairly pointless older sister) to contend with his brother's suicide in any way possible: drugs, rudeness, sex, drugs, mumbling, etc. Tim tries it all.
Feeling pretty much like an especially polished Project Greenlight production, Imaginary Heroes is generally unable to keep that difficult balance between characters who are wounded and fragile -- and characters who are snippy and unpleasant. A rock-solid cast infuses the intermittently pretentious narrative with a lot more gravity that what's on the page, which keeps Imaginary Heroes from becoming an outright bore. Hirsch is particularly excellent; in fact, I don't think this kid's ever given one subpar performance.
Imaginary Heroes isn't exactly a bad movie; several scenes of simple dialogue between Hirsch and Weaver stand out as effortlessly compelling -- but 25-year-old writer/director Dan Harris (co-writer of X-Men 2) doesn't make the leap from "close to the director's heart" to "make an audience actually give a hoot." If this is an autobiographical tale, I respect Mr. Harris' attempt to bring his story to big-screen life, but if the viewer fails to be adequately engaged by the always-aloof and quip-spouting characters -- there's just not a whole lot of drama being delivered. But the kid's got a good eye with the camera and a knack for offbeat dialogue, so I expect we'll be seeing a lot of Dan Harris in the near future.
Video: Sony presents the movie in a rather impressive Widescreen (2.35:1) Anamorphic format. You'll catch a few flutters here and there, but there's not much to complain about on the visual end.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, and it's just fine for what's a sincerely dialogue-heavy story. Optional French subtitles are available.
Not one but two separate audio commentaries, the first one with leading lady Sigourney Weaver and the second with actor Emile Hirsch and writer/director Dan Harris. Ms. Weaver comes across precisely as you'd expect: smart, classy, and more than prepared for a 100-minute yak track. Hirsch and Harris (communicating between California and Australia!) do their part to deliver a commentary both illuminating and entertaining, and pretty much succeed for the most part. Those who enjoy the film more than I will undoubtedly enjoy picking through these commentaries over a few sittings.
Behind the Scenes of Imaginary Heroes is a fairly vapid 6-minute collection of actor-on-actor love-fest. Good for a glimpse, I suppose, but there's no real meat on these bones.
The Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery is, well, it's a heaping handful of on-set snapshots, of course.
The deleted scenes section contains eight sequences that were removed from the final cut. Watched as part of the "play all" function they total approximately eleven minutes. You can also check out the deleted scenes with optional commentary from Mr. Harris. The deleted scenes are entitled:
On the Way to the Party
At the Minimart
Removing the Cast
Aren't You Jewish?
Milan Records Promo will give you a few reasons you might want to buy the Imaginary Heroes soundtrack -- but I'll pass, thanks.
Lastly you'll find a collection of previews for Layer Cake, The Merchant of Venice, Kung Fu Hustle, In My Country, Look at Me, A Love Song for Bobby Long, Creature Comforts, Rescue Me, and Up and Down. Oddly enough, the trailer for Imaginary Heroes is not included on the DVD.
I have several movie-smart pals who think I'm totally nuts for not getting "sucked into" Imaginary Heroes -- but to me it's just too darn similar to a story I've heard at least a dozen times by now. With such an impressive cast and a clearly talented filmmaker on board, this is a tough movie to actually dislike -- so let's just say I'm entirely "meh" on the whole thing. Absolutely feel free to give it a rent, because it is a "personal" sort of story that might just hit you like a ton of bricks. Me? Not so much.