Life rarely goes as planned
Unlike so many movie representations of Long Island, this one isn't focused on the rich, famous or beautiful. No, the star of the show is Laura (Fischer), a dental hygienist with a distant husband who spends long nights at the office (Chris O'Donnell) and a son (Daniel Yelsky) who's angry and sarcastic, communicating with his mother best through instant messaging. Though she's rather cheery, it's far from a ideal life for her, and she copes with the help of cigarettes and a beer (or two or three.) She can certainly use the escape, as she is constantly berated by her mother (Lesley Anne Warren) and sister (Brooke Smith), who never pass up a chance to take a dig at her (or her henpecked brother-in-law Paul (Rob Benedict.)) Finding a happy character in this film is like trying to find Waldo.
Laura's aggravating life becomes unbearable though when her husband suddenly dies, leaving her with nothing but debt, while leaving her son without a father. Though a medical malpractice suit offers a way out for Laura (a distasteful idea to her), her son's personal salvation comes in the form of a new school and a new start, but one built on a lie, as he tells his new classmates his dad died in the previous year's 9/11 attacks, in the line of duty as a firefighter. Whether through exhaustion or bad judgement, Laura goes along with the lie, one of many that will define her experience in the film. Similarly, Paul secretly supports his own son in a lie, encouraging his musical dream, against his mother's wishes. They are two people silently suffering, tied together by family, history and missed opportunities.
Written and directed by sitcom veteran and The King of Queens creator Michael J. Weithorn, the film carries with it a familiarity in the construction of the characters and situations, but, despite what the poster and tagline might lead you to believe, it couldn't be further in tone from a weekly comedy. This is an attractive film dripping with pathos, sporting several scenes so earnest that they run the risk of tipping into melodrama. However, with Fischer and Benedict (who should open some eyes as an utterly likable star) leading the way for a very talented cast, including Kim Coates as one of the best sleazy lawyers in film, the movie maintains a pretty even keel. That balance, and Fischer's charm, is what keeps you suffering along with her as things spin out of her control.
One of the great things about this film being a small indie production is the ending, which doesn't offer a pat wrap-up to the messy lives we've been observing. You absolutely know how things would go if there was a big studio logo at the beginning (which is free of titles as well, with all credits appearing at the end) but instead, the finish is refreshingly real. Admittedly, that's not exactly satisfying after investing nearly two hours in these folks, but leaving the finale up to the viewer means any disappointment in how things turn out lies firmly on the audience. It may be a bit of a cop-put, but at least it's not insulting (like the idea of saying Fischer's character had let herself go.)
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track does a fine job with a dialogue-driven film, putting pretty much everything in the center channel. The only action reserved for the surround speakers comes when it gets some spillover during the songs, including several by Jakob Dylan, who acts almost as a musical narrator, and some very light atmospheric effects. It's a quiet film and the presentation is fine in that regard.
A Jakob Dylan music video is up next, for his song "Down in a Hole." It's a studio-set video intercut with scenes from the film, for a song that should appeal to fans of his work with the Wallflowers. The extras wrap up with a TV commercial and theatrical trailer for the film.
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