Friday, February 19, 2016

Review: LOOKING FOR GRACE: Too lazy, dear Susan, too lazy

Right, there's a Grace who is a character who goes missing and there is grace which is a character trait which all of these characters are missing. If you're still with me, this is a tale told as a kind of lazy Susan whereby you are offered pieces of the greater meal which can come around again and mean a little more each time. There is a scene with a lazy Susan in a restaurant.

You might be getting a tone from that beginning but I did like the motion of the narrative in this film and how we are invited to judge characters until we see their motives more clearly as the lazy Susan of the story turns again. And we revolve and revolve, revisiting moments that gain weight just as we might in a restaurant with a wheel in the middle of the table.

So, why am I resisting this film so much when I have no trouble appreciating what amounts to an effective approach to an ensemble story? Well, because almost all of it drags under its own contrivance, the performances are annoyingly uneven and hampered by doughy dialogue that no one outside of this screenplay has ever uttered (and not in the Beckett/Pinter good way), and a detachment that seems unaware rather than assured of itself and a slow and creaky pendulum that doesn't quite make it to the drama or the comedy end of its trajectory.

If Rhada Mitchell, Terry Norris and Odessa Young could take the unbaked dialogue seriously enough to give measured performances that at least mean something in their scenes and they all worked together, why could no one rein in Richard Roxburg's hammy theatrical turn? He ruins every one of the many many scenes he is in with his mugging and overblown emoting, rendering his dialogue bizarrely alien to his dramatic surrounds. The others might be in a quirky light comedy and he's stiff and serious. If the scene veers toward the darker side of things he gets all perky. Is he telling us something about his character's alienation from the world that binds him? No, he's just overacting.

Maybe he didn't have much of a chance as the film itself tries to navigate between the different moods suggested by the complexities of the structure and its piecemeal information feed but I don't think so. After some well directed scenes in the coach and hotel rooms which really kick things off with promise we too soon enter into a series of vignettes that feel workshopped by actors rather than written by an author with a plan. With the kind of Altman/P.T. Anderson puzzle attempted here surely the worst thing to do is to allow too loose a fit between the pieces. They need to intrigue us but here they render us indifferent. The wheel keeps moving but it's grinding down and nothing looks tempting anymore.

And then we are given the cataclysmic event whose suddenness and violence should jolt us into feeling the void of grace and the dramatic importance of being ready for our fate with a soul in a clean state. The moment is delivered with effective ugliness and it is fitting that it jolts with the mood now long established. It falls flat, though, unless you've engaged with these warm props and the sounds of dialogue that they provide.

Which brings me to the score. I was really enjoying the delicate orchestration of the opening sequences with its solid strings and tremolo flute descant. It paid a subtle homage to Picnic at Hanging Rock but was resolutely its own music. We're not going to hear its like again until the wheel turns that last time and we're back in serious land. Meantime we get a charming clarinet theme and a quirky --

I just wanted the movie to return to the original mood, to keep to it and find all the same things it looks for in this manifestation but with a pleasing empathy to let us in. Oh, one thing I still like aobut it a lot is the opening credit sequence which I've never seen in a film before. We are led over some aerial views of landscapes which we soon start questioning as they don't look quite right. Are they landscapes from a great height or tiny stretches of beach or dirt up so close that they look epic: are they mountains or molehills? The pity of it is that we only get to see the molehills.

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