Mark (Leland Orser) leaps out of bed, grabbing his clothes and throwing them on as quickly as possible. Alice (Jeanne Tripplehorn) begs him to stay, stay, please, just today. When he doesn't answer, her pleas turn to anger, insisting that she'll move out if he doesn't stay. Mark reaches the door, and it's back to desperation, tears streaming down her face. She breaks a window, and he doesn't blink. Both parties end up getting in their cars and leaving the house, with Alice traveling to a hotel and Mark ultimately turning around and locking himself inside his home. Over the course of the next few days, numerous people reach out to help Alice and Mark, but penetrating the shields these two broken people have put up is not an easy task.
The box copy on the DVD explains more clearly what Morning, a film directed and written by Orser, is about, but the film itself doesn't give off the impression that such narrative clarity is what Orser intended. The synopsis above contains only the information he provides as setup for a "cryptic" story about lost souls, seemingly designed to give Orser and several other talented actors (Juliet White, Laura Linney, Kyle Chandler, Elliott Gould, Jason Ritter) a chance to show off their raw chops. It's not that it's ignoble to design a film that doesn't spell out every little detail for the audience, but it's obvious that the script and direction are working overtime to avoid including even a single straightforward scrap of exposition, just so all of the necessary dramatic information can be conveyed through performance.
The film primarily focuses on Alice as she struggles to make sense of her surroundings. Her friend, Mary (White), tries to soothe Alice's nerves by smothering her with normalcy, but this drives Alice to miniature outbursts, like smashing a plate in the middle of dinner with Mary and her son, Jesse (Charlie McDermott). Meanwhile, Mark lounges around at home, smashing flowers with golf clubs, eating junk food, and refusing to answer the door. Since Orser tells the story in an intentionally vague way, it's not clear how fast the audience is meant to put two and two together, but most viewers will do so pretty quickly. To his credit, sort of, this proves a smart audience doesn't need to have everything spelled out for them, but the truth behind Alice and Mark's separation is pretty obvious, and it becomes increasingly frustrating that the film won't address the elephant in the room like normal people would.
As the film continues, the talented cast Orser has assembled elevates the film somewhat. Alice and Jesse share a moment of understanding outside Mary's house that maneuvers a more compelling emotional path than ten scenes of Alice weeping. Shortly thereafter, she meets with two Dr. Goodmans (Linney and Gould), both of whom find more interesting ways to work between the lines than the screenplay, shading in exposition with glances and gestures. Orser's character, on the other hand, becomes outright exhausting, regressing to childlike behavior and cliched "emotional breakdown" scenes (at one point, he picks up a cardboard box to do some sort of work and ends bawling and tearing it apart instead). His thread also contains the film's most obvious, head-slapping visual metaphors, including a pool being drained, and a fish flopping on the floor.
Ultimately, Orser fails to let us into these people's lives, specifically placing the viewer outside of their torment looking in. Near the end of the movie, Tripplehorn and Linney share a scene in which the film comes as close as it ever does to really describing or getting inside the heart of Alice's emotional turmoil, yet Orser still refuses to directly address what happened, despite how clear it is. It's a frustrating conundrum: how can Orser possibly hope to address the complex web of emotions his characters are dealing with if his characters are never actually allowed to talk about it?
I guess the cut-out house artwork for Morning is at least a step above generic boxes, considering Leland Orser does spend the film locked in his house. The disc comes in a standard eco-friendly DVD case, and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1, this disc looks and sounds quite nice for a DVD. Other than some banding on the Anchor Bay logo (likely not exclusive to this DVD transfer), the film resolves fairly well in standard definition, with no noticeable artifacting, decent contrast levels, and an appreciable amount of fine detail. The film is dialogue-heavy, which has a nice richness to it, with some ambience and music spreading out to the surround channels. Neither the PQ or the AQ is asked to do much in the way of heavy lifting, and this disc has no trouble handling either. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are also included.
Although there are performances worth commending, Morning is an exasperating exercise in grief that fails to dig into its own subject by approaching it from an intentionally obscured angle. Skip it.
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