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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 19.44%
Just Average: 5.56%
Pretty Crappy: 19.44%
Sucks: 19.44%

3 reviews, 18 user ratings

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Imaginary Heroes
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by Erik Childress

"Strong Actors & Script Overcome Antiquated Material"
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2004 TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: The levels of family dramas range from the highest peaks to the loneliest rungs of melodramatic literature. Strike the right iron and you get Ordinary People or American Beauty. Go basic and you’re left with an after-school disease movie of the week. Some would argue even the finest line between both of these. Imaginary Heroes flirts on both sides of the line and audiences may be flipping an imaginary coin over where they stand on it, one argument just as suitable as the next. The film came up heads for me three out of every five flips thanks to some great performances by consummate pros who know how to handle the balance bar all too well.

Tragedy strikes the Travis family one morning when their eldest son Matt (Kip Purdue), a championship swimmer, kills himself. Ben (Jeff Daniels) had Olympic-sized plans for his boy and is sent into one of those unshaven alone phases. Sandy (Sigourney Weaver) has always had a more open relationship with their youngest, Tim (Emile Hirsch), whose piano skills have been on the backburner. Their only daughter, Penny (Michelle Williams) visits from college at the turn of every holiday or occasional suicide.

Ben makes little gestures to ingratiate himself into Tim’s life, but he’s mostly out-of-touch and can never conceal that Matt was his favorite. Mom is a little more encouraging even if she’s infrequently distracted by her feud with the next-door neighbor (Deirdre O’Connell) whose own son (Ryan Donowho) is hardly the best influence on Tim.

Pain has been lingering amidst the Travis household for years. Only now has it begun to seep out of their pores. Each of them initiate their own pharmaceutical haze, not of the addiction sort, but the daily prescriptions that are often substituted for personal therapy. The sad truth of how doctors become dealers instead of us dealing with ourselves. Dad has a collection of pills. Mom humorously regresses to her younger days of pot. Actual physical pain inhabits Tim thanks to an accident and unexplained dark bruises that encompass his body.

Writer/director Dan Harris keeps many of the catalysts for everyone’s behavior buried in the past, keeping us on the path of discovery only to manifest themselves in the later stages. Counting the tragedies, misfortunes and other unfortunates that befall these characters may drive those just discovering cynicism to put on the brakes. It doesn’t go for easy tears, however, nor for overly melodramatic assemblies. Even when Daniels appears to get a second chance at nailing his Terms of Endearment bedside demeanor, Harris sidesteps by not going for the obvious.

Weaver is terrific; getting a chance to actually act rather than stare and look confused in M. Night Shyamalan's Village atrocity. Part cynical hipster and part matriarch, Sandy is unsure of how to mold her family into a cohesive one, but Weaver makes her vulnerable when she least expects, but strong. Daniels is poised with a difficult role of trying to push up the sleeve that wears his pain, but unable to escape that there’s just too much fabric. Hirsch continues to do solid work in the various stages of the troubled youth; from arrogant rich-kid (The Emperor’s Club) to insecure over-achiever (The Girl Next Door). These three actors get rich one-on-one scenes to mix-up with one another and they are our guides through some of the film’s rougher passages.

Dan Harris overreaches on occasion with one too many secrets, subplots or confrontations, but he manages to pull them all together so that we’re focused on only one crisis at a time. Harris has already culled a resume that would make film school graduates envious (or ready to call him “sellout”) With a script in the bank for X2: X-Men United and the upcoming adaptations for Logan’s Run, Ender’s Game and Superman Returns, it may surprise that it was Imaginary Heroes that initially caught the attention of X2’s Bryan Singer. Maybe he saw something particularly mutant about the Travis family or maybe he recognized Harris’ understanding of characters isolated from not just the world but also themselves. We're all looking for heroes, even if its just something found in comic books. Audiences may feel compelled towards labeling Imaginary Heroes nothing more than a movie-of-the-week. But, most will have to admit, it’s a pretty good one.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=10531&reviewer=198
originally posted: 10/14/04 12:05:12
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Chicago Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Starz Denver Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Boston Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Boston Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Mill Valley Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Mill Valley Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/29/08 Kyle Definitely in my Top 20 favorites of all time. Great film w/great cast! 5 stars
10/29/06 Anthony This movie puts me in a mood I could never just jump into, I thought it was amazing. 5 stars
7/23/06 Marty hirsch and weaver rocked, but the "dramady" didn't work. selfconscious, not self aware 3 stars
6/01/06 Danny GREAT! Weaver is always a joy to watch, and Hirsch is one talented young actor. 5 stars
1/30/06 alice I HATE it when they do not know what they want DRAMA?COMEDIE?very shallow.Very pro drugs. 1 stars
1/03/06 Dan Nott Weaver in her best role. 2 Reviewers on this site were really off on this film. 5 stars
12/21/05 Natalie Weinrauch It definitley made me think. Changed some prospectives of mine. 5 stars
6/23/05 Giselle anything with Weaver is excellent and worth watching 5 stars
6/19/05 Sophia This film is beautiful, touching, heavy and depressing yet heart warming. 5 stars
6/11/05 Darryl Perhaps the best film so far this year. Great acting by all, esp. Weaver and Hirsch. 5 stars
10/27/04 Ian Sklarsky A wonderful story that actually depicts a family as a very hard struggle to maintain. 5 stars
10/19/04 Jenna IS a movie that willl leave you laughing 4 stars
10/17/04 Bette Lawler after laughing, it made me cry and think about my life. The big twists hit me - its amazing 5 stars
10/16/04 steve cruz this film pays off like a jackpot in the third act, be patient while it develops 5 stars
9/18/04 vince made me cry and laugh. the audience loved it. 5 stars
9/16/04 andrew bates 3 stars
9/13/04 Shauna Eckert 2 stars
9/03/04 Dan Harris I loved, but then again, I wrote and directed it. 5 stars
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  17-Dec-2004 (R)
  DVD: 07-Jun-2005



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