by Jay Seaver
SCREENED AT THE 2005 BOSTON FILM FESTIVAL: Timothy Scott Bogart wants you to cry, and he is determined to make it happen. To that end, he supplies dead children, dead parents, brain damage, sad children, multi-year comas, mysterious aliments and miraculous recoveries. People of fragile constitutions should probably be very glad that none of the characters in this movie owns a dog.The movie's not sad when it starts, of course; we see Scott Davis (Randall Batinkoff) happily about to bring his adorable five-year-old Kyle (Charlie Lea) to Kyle's mother's house for the weekend, but there's a terrible accident, and the next time we see him, he's been in a coma for two years, and is stuck in a long-term care facility, getting special attention from nurse Angela Martin (Jenna Elfman). Angela has problems of her own, mostly involving her older brother Thomas (Frederick Koehler), who has the mind of a ten-year-old and lives in a special needs facility. After Scott wakes up during a thunderstorm one night, his wealthy parents (Bruce Davison and Diane Verona) decide to bring him home to recover, despite the worrisome fact that he's having hallucinations of his son and that he has completely lost his sense of touch. Naturally, Angela is hired as the live-in nurse, so they inevitably fall in love.
"Cry, audience! Cry as hard as you can!"
The loss of the ability to feel is, of course, a metaphor. It has to be, since the film doesn't spend much time dwelling on what it must be like to live without the literal ability to feel. Scott seems to be close to fully functional relatively quickly; I noticed he didn't look at his feet while climbing stairs, which strikes me as something of a necessity without tactile sensation. It is a useful metaphor for his inability to interact with the world as he emerges from his coma, literally numb to the situation. The trouble is twofold: It's an affliction that is difficult to visually illustrate without doing something obvious, like having him accidentally rest his hand on a stovetop, and it's also so unusual, that when there are are inevitable issues in the third act, the audience can't help but wonder why the hell he didn't have an MRI or a CT scan or any of the dozens of diagnostic tests Davis Sr. can afford. There's a flimsy rationale given, but it is, well, flimsy.
That's a sign of Bogart's relative inexperience. Another is the heavy reliance on cigarettes as a prop. Directors make characters smokers because it puts some motion on the screen during dialogue-heavy scenes, giving the actors something to do with their hands. They can fidget with it to indicate nervousness, let it smolder off to the side, or what have you. Even if an audience member isn't aware of this convention, it would be tough to miss considering how the smoking gets brought up in conversation. It calls attention to the technique, which is fine in moderation, but comes off as a crutch in regular use. At least they don't go to "I haven't had one of these in years".
The cast is nice, though. Jenna Elfman is mostly known for comedy, and it's easy to see why television networks have been trying to cast her in a new sitcom since Dharma & Greg ended - she establishes a personality quickly, and it's an open, friendly one; it's easy for the audience to like her despite her flaws. She handles the heavier parts well, and is willing to let the audience find her interest in the coma patient a little creepy. Randall Batinkoff may not quite have convinced me in terms of portraying his infirmity, but his character work is solid. He reminds me of Mark Ruffalo before the mainstream found him; he does good big-hearted but hurt. Davison and Verona are solid as the parents; I particularly liked Davison's portrayal of being pulled in different directions trying to please everyone. Koehler does the mentally disabled shtick, and Samantha Mathis is almost invisible as Angela's co-worker and best friend.
There's an audience for weepers like this, and they'll probably be able to overlook its flaws. It pushes its buttons at the right times, and so what if they're mashed? It's a movie without villains - even the doctor who suspends Angela from her job recommends her to the Davises - featuring little in the way of gratuitous (or even non-gratuitous) sex, violence, or harsh language. It's got a likable, good-looking couple at its center who will end the movie in a heart-string-tugging way. It's got a lot of people crying at bedsides. There is a crowd - predominantly older and female - that responds to that in the same instinctive manner that many young men respond to things going up in flames.But just as the presence of an exploding helicopter isn't necessarily indicative of the quality of a movie, neither is someone being nobly ill or emotionally damaged. "Touched" isn't an awful movie, but it's a formulaic one with frequently ham-handed execution.
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originally posted: 01/14/06 12:00:51