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Overall Rating
4.71

Awesome92.86%
Worth A Look: 0%
Just Average: 0%
Pretty Crappy: 0%
Sucks: 7.14%

1 review, 8 user ratings


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Talent Given Us, The
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by Erik Childress

"Meet The Wagners"
5 stars

At what point in a person's life does taking a family vacation become a premeditated nightmare? Everyone can recall at least one horror story taking the cross-country trip by plane, train or automobile. Impatient cries from the backseat, not satisfying everyone's ideal destination and the constant nagging between grown adults have scarred at least a few of us. And that was when we were still forming and had the ability to have our childhoods marked psychologically. Imagine taking the same roadtrip 20 years later. That's the predicament the Wagner family finds themselves in, unaware of the various can of worms they are about to open; not the least of which is a rich, hysterical journey that hits you in the gut in some way with every mile.

Judy and Allen Wagner (played by themselves) are a retired couple in their 70s. He's a former floor trader in New York and has been suffering from a debilitating condition that limits his ability to speak. She worries for her husband and still cares for him, but wonders if its time she moved on. The fact that she hasn't lost her libido one bit just adds to the tension in the relationship.

One day they bump into a pair of their son's former high school teachers. They would love to have him come back to teach at his alma mater, but ol' Andrew can be very reclusive when trying to hammer out one of his screenplays. Judy and Allen even have trouble reaching him since he's the one man in Los Angeles without a cell phone or e-mail and the land lines tend to get flooded by American Idol calls.

On the spur of the moment, Judy decides she wants to drive cross-country to talk to her son face-to-face. With their 30-some daughters in tow, Maggie and Emily (who just flew-in from LA), a roadtrip begins and a period of both humorous and disheartening discovery starts to take shape.

Shot in a documentary-like style and the Wagners playing themselves (or at least hyperbolic versions of each other), there's a spontaneity to their conversations that cements its genuineness and adds to the absurdity. The truth in comedy is much harder to find than a series of one-liners that flow from a gifted writer's pen and the truth is that the Wagners are naturally funny people. Judy loves to turn things around on others as when she asks her daughter if she was a 'mean mother' and then chastises her for always bringing up the past. There's a screwball mentality to the overlapping arguments all of them have in the car, especially when criticizing Maggie's driving, that's priceless.

The real find of the clan though is Emily Wagner. For years she has appeared on ER as paramedic Doris Pickman and here's hoping that Christopher Guest or some improv troupe picks up on her instinctive comedic talents, because she's loaded. She brings with her everything parents fear about LA, trying to teach her family various healing techniques and speaking frankly about her sexual experiences. This may be the only time you ever hear of someone having a 'Warsaw Ghetto Fantasy'. Shea's sexy, brilliantly funny and intimidating in that good way.

There's also a real heart in-between some of the surreality, as in roping along one of the Lost Boys (Billy Wirth), a family friend for the last leg of their trip or a PR agent (nicely played by Judy Dixon) getting fired in the middle of Iowa on the set of Field of Dreams 2. Judy has been living the same life for so long that maybe impulsiveness is getting the best of her as she tries to pattern out the rest of her days. When elements of their past is revealed, normally it would be shocking to audiences accustomed to soap opera melodrama, but they discuss it like real people. The past is the past and not everyone is innocent. They understand this, so why dwell on it. The future is complicated enough.

The Talent Given Us is in the spirit of films like About Schmidt and Pieces of April; voyages of reconciliation and bonding that are long overdue. It's also about individuality and finding what makes YOU happy after you've probably spent a good portion of your life trying to please others. It could be pursuing your dream in a life filled with modicum success, feeling better about yourself by tweaking your body or simply knowing that one person is out there who appreciates what you bring to their life. How much inspiration writer/director Andrew Wagner drew from his own family to bring this film to life I have no idea. But it's certainly inspired even if it doesn't encourage you to go coast-to-coast with your own family. If you have the chance to be an onlooker on the Wagner's family trip though, you should drop everything and get on board.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=10079&reviewer=198
originally posted: 06/21/04 14:14:38
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 CineVegas Film Festival. For more in the 2004 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Atlanta Film Festival For more in the 2005 Atlanta Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/11/05 ralph levitt best film since A Mighty Wind. Sensation. 5 stars
9/07/05 Barbara See this film if you have a chance! 5 stars
7/24/05 Daniel Original, engaging 5 stars
6/23/04 Lauren Nissen This was undeniably the best film at CineVegas. Not bad for a $30 K budget. 5 stars
6/23/04 daniel ehiwario the film is okay, it is higly interested 5 stars
6/22/04 Joe Bloggs Saw it at Cinevegas. Hilarious, heartfelt; beautifully shot, for a low-budget digital film. 5 stars
6/17/04 Glenace Melton Great movie! Entertaining but delves into complicated family relationships. 5 stars
6/15/04 Brent Usry Too much background movement. Makes you go crazy, on a scale of 1 to 10 its a SUCKS! 1 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  17-Jun-2005 (NR)

UK
  N/A

Australia
  N/A


Directed by
  Andrew Wagner

Written by
  Andrew Wagner

Cast
  Judy Wagner
  Allen Wagner
  Emily Wagner
  Maggie Wagner
  Judy Dixon
  Billy Wirth



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