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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 8.51%
Just Average: 4.26%
Pretty Crappy: 21.28%
Sucks: 4.26%

3 reviews, 29 user ratings

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Away From Her
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by David Cornelius

"It'd be lovely if it weren't so stupid."
2 stars

Sarah Polley’s behind-the-camera debut, “Away From Her,” is beautifully directed and even more beautifully acted. But the screenplay - also by Polley - is so clumsy that it causes all of the film’s good intentions to backfire.

The film, adapted from Alice Murno’s short story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” intends to be a poetic case study of Alzheimer’s, although it never feels honest. Grant (Gordon Pinsent) and Fiona (Julie Christie) are an impossibly happy couple, enjoying cozy days hiking through their Canadian wilderness together, cozy nights reading to each other. But Fiona’s mind is failing, and while Grant originally refuses to accept the changes, he is eventually convinced that it’s time for Fiona to be institutionalized. The place they select is marvelous - caring, kind, knowledgeable - but there’s also a rule: nobody can visit a new patient for the first thirty days of her stay.

Such a plot point is inherently phony; no genuine care center would demand Alzheimer’s patients be cut off from friends and family, especially during a time of major change. Such a rule exists here only as manipulation, a cheap set-up to the plot’s ultimate dilemma.

But then, so much of “Away From Her” is ridiculous in its phoniness. Despite a stilted, withdrawn approach to the writing, dialogue is meant to deliver a lyrical quality to the mind’s decay, leaving Christie mumbling such silliness as this chestnut, heard while Fiona tends to some flowers: “When I look away, I forget what yellow means.” While not as offensively cutesy-quaint as the representation of the disease seen in “The Notebook,” the portrait of Alzheimer’s here always feels like it’s using the disease to boost up a love story, instead of to tell an candid tale of its effects on the victim and her family.

This isn’t the only fakery on display. Consider a running gag involving a patient who used to be a sports announcer; he roams the halls, providing rich-voiced play-by-play on all around him, even bothering to interrupt one vital scene. What’s the point? Did we suddenly stumble into one of those movies where all the inmates are “adorably crazy”? Did we suddenly find ourselves in desperate need of oddball comic relief?

Or what of the goth chick - a movie’s hilariously lame-brained interpretation of the pierced-and-moody style, that is - who appears in one scene to swap cheap platitudes with Grant? Is she there just to give Grant some street cred, an old fart who appreciates dirty words and the brashness of youth? Or how about a scene mid-movie, completely unrelated to anything at all, in which Grant and Fiona watch the Iraq War unfold on TV, only to have Fiona pipe up, “How could they forget Vietnam?” What’s anti-war commentary doing flopping around the middle of this melodrama?

So you see the phoniness, the inescapable falseness at hand. Which brings us back to those thirty days, the first time Grant has spent away from his wife since they were married decades ago. When Grant returns on day thirty-one, he is saddened to see that not only does she barely remember him, but she has taken to a kindly mute named Aubrey (Michael Murphy) instead. To what lengths, then, will Grant go to keep the love of his life happy? Will he visit every day, only to mope about, staring at Fiona and her new beau? Apparently, yes.

He will also visit Aubrey’s wife (Olympia Dukakis), and while it first seems that he is a lonely man trying to make new connections, his real intentions are soon revealed. Aubrey has been released from the institution, and Fiona’s heart has broken; would Aubrey’s wife mind letting him go back to visit Fiona?

There is, admittedly, a potentially powerful sweetness to this bit of sacrifice, a man breaking his own heart to save the heart of his true love. But the facts surrounding this sacrifice - the Alzheimer’s, the cruel obligations of the nursing home - reveal a layer of manipulation that’s downright crass.

What saves the film, curiously, is Polley herself. While her script (admittedly hampered by manipulative source material) is a wreck, her handling of the camera is quite marvelous. She creates moments of fantastic beauty, carefully paced. Polley never gets lost in the story, which zigzags between past and present endlessly. And she pulls touching, restrained performances from all involved, most notably Christie (who refuses to ham it up) and Pinsent (who finds a majestic calm in the midst of it all). This is a superb cast and a wonderful director working together in splendid ways, and they almost save the story from itself.

But only almost. No matter how grand the performances or how lovely the images, they can’t rise above a screenplay as absolutely broken as this. There’s not a genuine moment to be found in this film, and what could have been heartbreakingly beautiful is instead off-putting, crude, and cheap.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=14871&reviewer=392
originally posted: 09/25/07 19:19:19
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2006 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Vancouver Film Festival For more in the 2006 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2007 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Portland Film Festival For more in the 2007 Portland Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Florida Film Festival For more in the 2007 Florida Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2007 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Independent Film Festival of Boston For more in the 2007 Independent Film Festival of Boston series, click here.

User Comments

1/11/16 Ed Riddick Great acting and photography, smooth and masterful direction, sometimes clumsy script. 4 stars
9/27/13 Bill Burnett Great, heart-breaking, luminous film making 5 stars
9/27/10 BT Cornelius doesn't know what he's talking about; the movie has near-universal acclaim 4 stars
2/03/10 brian Julie Christie is brilliant but surrounded by unlikeable characters and it's sl-o-o-o-o-w. 3 stars
3/25/09 Anonymous. a more realistic look at Alzheimer's than the notebook. the review under this is wrong. 5 stars
3/03/09 Richard Laurence Totally unrealistic. Insulting to Alzheimer's patients & caregivers. Inane plot & dialogue. 1 stars
2/22/09 Mozza Rather a glamorous view of Alzheimers's I think. It's much tougher! 3 stars
1/11/09 C Wagner Away From Her is a heart-wrenching drama. Great story and performances. Don't be so jaded. 5 stars
11/19/08 tiffany lambert great, heart-wrenching film. 5 stars
4/12/08 kp lost my mother to alzeimers - hated it, not even a glimmer of truth regarding the disease 2 stars
4/03/08 Catherine Curtis Loved It!!!!! 5 stars
3/29/08 jcjs 'his real intentions soon reveal' (is insane to say)..masterpiece..perfect 5 stars
3/16/08 Helen Outrageously unrealistic, Fiona was far from needing institutional care, one word-DOORLOCK! 2 stars
1/26/08 Jim An unforgettable film. Fantastic. 5 stars
1/21/08 alex There is not a genuine criticism to be found in this review. 5 stars
12/16/07 mb Didn't seem real, but politically scripted 2 stars
11/26/07 Alex Amazing.. the best of 2007 5 stars
9/16/07 betsy watched this on a plane and purposly watched AGAIN just to catch the details... great! 5 stars
8/25/07 Zaimah movie was bad but story was ok 2 stars
6/19/07 Lamb Julie christie is crazy beautiful! Sarah rocks as a director. 5 stars
6/15/07 William Goss Tender, touching tale of love lost to Alzheimer's. Kudos all around both on and off-screen. 4 stars
6/08/07 Heather Sarah Polley is worth looking out for 5 stars
6/02/07 dmitry samarov Devastating 5 stars
10/18/06 Wendy I loved this film. Beautifully written and paced, sensitive & well acted. 5 stars
10/17/06 Shane Awful writing, terrible cinematic values, felt like a cheap MOW 1 stars
10/03/06 Abdullah Nahid Niger Awesome weaving of sequences. 5 stars
9/17/06 Ancaster Film Fest Marvelous script and performances. Beautifully filmed. 5 stars
9/17/06 denny in my mind the film of the festival; never felt manipulated; can't wait for polley's next 5 stars
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  04-May-2007 (PG-13)
  DVD: 11-Sep-2007



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