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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 Peter Sobczynski

"Surburbia is filled with secrets and lies!! Don't stop the presses."
2 stars

“Imaginary Heroes” is a film that boldly dares to show its viewers that behind the smiling faces and well-manicured lawns of suburbia resides a festering swamp of secrets, lies, betrayals and ennui. You will forgive me if I don’t call the editors and ask them to stop the presses. From the semi-satire of TV’s “Desperate Housewives” (at least I presume it is meant to be satire) to the Oscar-winning likes of “Ordinary People” and “American Beauty,” this is a subject that has been done to death and would require a smart screenplay and a unique perspective to breathe some life into it. These are the very qualities that are lacking in this film, which is content to pile on the cliches to such a degree that it begins to feel at times as if it is an “Airplane!”-type spoof of the genre.

The film opens with seemingly bucolic shots of the Travis family, your average suburban clan with your average tensions, so you automatically begin counting the minutes until their lives are shattered and buried secrets begin to rear their ugly head. Thankfully, older son Matt (Kip Pardue), a swimming champion driven to succeed by his overbearing dad (Jeff Daniels), is obliging enough to shoot himself in the head at the end of the opening credits without an explanation. In attempting to process their grief and understand why he would do such a thing, the surviving members of the Travis clan find increasingly odd ways of coping. Dad turns into an emotional zombie who still insists on not only setting a place for his dead son at dinner, but puts food on the plate as well. (He helpfully explains this to the rest by saying, “He was the only good thing in this family.”) Mom (Sigourney Weaver) starts smoking dope and flirting with a grocery cashier young enough to be her son. Younger brother Tim (Emilie Hirsch) flirts with drugs, sex and violence and winds up in the hospital after a car accident before learning some unsavory secrets about his family. Daughter Penny (Michelle Williams) has the most sensible reaction of the bunch; she basically stays the hell away from everyone else as much as possible while still retaining fourth billing.

As you can probably surmise, there are hardly any sympathetic characters on display in “Imaginary Heroes.” That isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a film but the problem here is that writer-director Dan Harris has forgotten to make them at least interestingly unsympathetic. The miseries and cruelties that he concocts for them are so over-the-top (such as the scene when Dad contemplated plastic surgery for Christmas–not for himself, but for Mom) that it is impossible to take them seriously. And when Harris does try for laughs, the jokes are either too dumb to be believed (such as the circumstances under which Mom gets busted for trying to buy weed) or are so poorly established that it is difficult to determine whether we are supposed to be laughing or not. Example: while recovering in the hospital after his car crash, Tim sees that a fellow patient is a girl from his school who has apparently attempted suicide. We never see her again, but we are eventually treated to an assembly scene where the school principal announces that she killed herself and that a poem of hers will be read aloud as a memorial–the poem turns out to be the lyrics to Pearl Jam’s “Alive,” though no one seems to recognize this. If the scene is supposed to be darkly funny, it just doesn’t work and if it is supposed to be poignant and touching, then Harris must have little confidence in his central characters if he has to kill off a barely-seen person in order to get a reaction.

Then there are the points where the storyline gets so convoluted that seemingly important developments are either overlooked or ignored completely. Remember the grocery store clerk who was hitting on Weaver that I mentioned? Eventually, he winds up becoming the boyfriend of her daughter–a complication that is strangely never remarked upon or dealt with at all. And then there is the final shocking secret that Tim learns about himself. Forget the fact that, based on what we know about his family, it is highly unlikely that no one would have mentioned it to him at some earlier point. The revelation winds up casting a previous development in a newer, darker light and yet this is never mentioned at all, even though it would seem to be fraught with more potential trauma than the allegedly shocking secret itself.

“Imaginary Heroes” has a good and game cast and because of them, I found myself holding out hope for a longer period than normal that it would finally pull itself together into something worthwhile. Eventually, it becomes clear that they have been stranded in a screenplay that requires them to portray mere shadows of the kinds of characters that they have played in the past (as Weaver did in the incalculably better “The Ice Storm”). If watching a bunch of miserable, self-absorbed people treating each other like crap for 95 minutes sounds like your cup of tea, you may find this film to be inexplicably worthwhile. Myself, I found myself sympathizing more and more with the suicidal son; say what you will about his actions, at least he got something accomplished.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=10531&reviewer=389
originally posted: 02/25/05 05:56:29
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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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