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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Guitar
The Guitar
Starz / Anchor Bay // R // February 10, 2009
List Price: $26.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted February 20, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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The Film:

In The Guitar, we're taken into the erratic word of a woman with certain, and painful, future. Melody (Saffron Burrows) discovers that she has cancer of the throat, which has progressed to a degree that has left her with one or two months to live. In a whirlwind of rage against the world, she clears out her bank account and scurries for refuge in an amazing short-term loft. With credit cards under tow and no floodgate to hold back inhibition or desire, she designs as perfect of a life for herself as she can afford for her last days -- including steering away from her vegetarian diet, waltzing around her open-aired loft stark naked, indulging in happenstance romances, and finally learning to play the guitar in the center of her stage-like studio.

Diving into the unstable mind of a grieving, lonely cancer victim can be compelling territory, but that's not enough for The Guitar. In order really get the point across that her life has turned to shambles -- as if her diagnosis wasn't enough -- Mel also loses her job and has to endure her boyfriend/husband breaking up with her while she's in the middle of explaining her condition. Amy Redford's film exposes a few weaknesses from the start by exercising overkill throughout the course of Mel's re-discovery, pushing too hard at all the pivotal moments in the film with excessive turns of events. It's a dynamic where we get the point -- firmly -- then the film's exposition topples over itself to pound the message into the viewer's conscious.

It's understandable that Mel would be in search of a sort of numbing contentment and, in her line of disconnect from the world, would venture from her job and her loved ones in search of soaking in as much life as she can beforehand -- kind of like The Bucket List, only with a stricter deadline. The actual line of events isn't all that unbelievable, but the way that they're connected to the story becomes problematic any time Amos Pie's script leans too hard onto the "cruel, cruel world" dynamic. It lends an unnatural flow to her downward spiral; instead of taking an opportunity to add complexity to Mel by giving her the chance to break free from her life under her own terms, the film takes a nosedive into unoriginality by clustering every series of transitory moments into neat little clumps to digest all at once.

The Guitar is forced to muscle past emotive heavy-handedness in order to craft an intricate and compelling character out of Melody, something that Saffron Burrows tries her hardest to accomplish but can't quite pull off. I've been fond of the actress after seeing her in smaller character roles in Troy and Reign Over Me -- and, if you can keep a secret, as the lead in Deep Blue Sea -- roles that give her enough to work with so that her talent can irk through amid a usual crowd of prominent leads. Here, she's set free to give Melody a strong, contained gradient of emotion, ranging from desperation and pain to half-satisfied indulgence. She delivers it, at least as best as she can through the blatant, thick dialogue that she's given. To its benefit, a large portion of the film is dialogue-less, a decision that allows for Burrows to give weight to Mel's action by way of her capacity to communicate pain through her thin frame and mentally-active disposition.

It's this purely dynamic material in the middle that justifies The Guitar's melodramatic ease to some extent, all centered within a distraught core as Mel dives into her period of finite awakening. Whenever Amy Redford's film leans on Burrows' raw ability to stir chemistry with the supporting cast, it becomes a semi-intriguing character study with moments of stirring energy generated between Mel's network of confidants. Essentially, the film could've worked as a silent, containing enough physical mise-en-scène between Mel and her two "close" friends Roscoe, played soundly by Isaach De Bankolé, and Cookie (Paz de la Huerta), to give life in a lifeless environment filled with unsatisfying "stuff".

The Guitar instead lingers as an experience where you dread dialogue around every corner, mainly because these ideas about awakening and self-discovery could've been so much better with a firmer grasp of realism and tangibility. Oddly, the musical accompaniment personifies my general impressions about the film perfectly; through the sound of rudimentary chords and even simple strumming on the guitar backdrops her saddened state, it's obvious that she's at ground zero in learning about her life, but the bluntness that takes place as she learns more and more steers too far from delicateness to resonate successfully. Burrows is amiable enough as the "student" -- both literal and figurative -- and the message of growth through disconnection is stable, but her evolution into an "artist" in The Guitar is a little tough to stomach.

The DVD (Video & Audio, Special Features):

Starz / Lionsgate has sent over a DVR screener copy of The Guitar that comes with a garbled, watermarked image, a mediocre Dolby Stereo track, and void of any menus to navigate in search of any supplements. As this is certainly not the retail product, we'll report back if/when the final package is sent our way.

Final Thoughts:

Saffron Burrows's performance as Melody does an admirable job at building The Guitar into more than emotion-bait melodrama about a cancer victim's hunger for contentment. Leaps in logic within the script, however, cloud the film's honest glimpses into her boggling world full of experimentation and risk-taking in order to make the best of her life before she passes. Though they crop up in stacked, unnatural fashion, it's an earnest line of events laced with emotional potency as the dynamics between Mel and her small cluster of friends fuels a semi-sensuous, semi-evolutionary interplay. For Burrows and the way she builds a lively rapport between her two supporting characters, The Guitar is worth a Rental.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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