November (2005)

Reviewed By Brian McKay
Posted 05/07/05 16:47:46

"Courtney Cox makes Friends with Madness"
3 stars (Just Average)

SCREENED AT THE 48th SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL - If you bred RUN LOLA RUN with DONNIE DARKO, you might come up with something that’s pretty close to NOVEMBER, the latest by director Greg Harrison (GROOVE). Shot for a mere $150K, the film gets a shot in the arm by having a recognizable “big name” attached to it. But those expecting the light and fluffy Courtney Cox of the bygone FRIENDS era might be surprised to find a de-glamorized Cox playing it straight as a woman who may or may not be going insane after her boyfriend is murdered in a convenience store robbery.

Sophie (Cox) appears to have it all: A successful career as a photography instructor, a hotshot lawyer fiancée’ named Hugh (James LeGros), and a young lover on the side, Jesse (Michael Ely) that she kind of feels guilty about (hey, Hugh works long hours, and a woman has needs!).

But when Hugh is killed in a convenience store robbery one November night, while Sophie chats with Jesse on her cell phone in the car, she finds herself overcome with guilt and plagued by recurring headaches and strange noises in her apartment. Talks with her therapist (Nora Dunn) and her busybody mother (Anne Archer) don’t seem to help matters much, but things begin to take a truly odd twist when she finds strange clues left in unlikely places – clues that keep pointing her back to the night of the murder and the convenience store where it occurred.

She enlists the help of a police detective (Nick Offerman), who helps her unravel these clues, but when they begin to point back to the most unlikely of suspects, she finds her tenuous grasp on her sanity slipping even further. But just when she seems to be getting close to figuring out the mystery, time rewinds and we find her back at the liquor store- only this time we see events unfolding in a completely different manner. Is she losing her mind? Is she stuck in some kind of temporal Oroborous, ala GROUNDHOG DAY? Just what is going on here?

As in the aforementioned RUN LOLA RUN, Sophie relives the same period of her life three times, only each time events unfold differently and the mystery deepens. Cox is proficient, if not outstanding, in the role of Sophie. Care is taken with conservative wardrobe choices, and the addition of glasses and an “under-achiever’s haircut”, to de-accentuate her beauty without making her unattractive, making her character more personable and believable. She keeps Sophie reserved and at times even defensive, as she struggles through her feelings of grief and guilt.

Director Harrison gives NOVEMBER a terrific look, with an extra helping of dark and moody. In fact, the look of the movie is probably its most impressive aspect, rendered even more so by the fact that it was shot entirely on digital but maintains the kind of visual grittiness to it that can usually only be achieved by shooting with film. But while it looks great, the plot often feels just a bit too jumbled. Title cards at the beginning of each act clue us in to the fact that each of the vignettes is representative of the grieving process (Denial, Anger, etc.) – however, it is never really clear how the events that unfold in each segment really relate to the specified states of grieving. Likewise, many of the clues Sophie finds, as well as her possibly delusional flashbacks, begin to feel like sound and fury signifying not a damn thing by the third act. Many of them seem to be arbitrarily thrown in to evoke an “oooh, that’s creepy, how did that get there?” response, only to be promptly brushed aside and forgotten as the film jumps to the next segment. By the time the final retelling of the events of November takes place, it is never clear which version, if any, is representative of “the truth”.

Oddly enough, the film weighs in at a short 73 minutes, and ten of those minutes are wasted on a snail’s-pace closing credit scroll (During the Q & A afterward, Cox joked that it was the first time she’d been in a movie where the credits were longer than the film itself). It’s a whole lot of build up to a “Huh?” resolution, and while the film didn’t need to clearly spell everything out and wrap it up with a tidy bow, it just left too many things unaddressed and unresolved. It’s as if Harrison and screenwriter Benjamin Brand had a great premise and some good ideas for a slew of psychological tricks to throw at the viewer, but no idea how to stretch it into a feature-length film or wrap it up in a satisfactory manner.

There’s a chance that I just missed the significance of some vital clues that would, if recognized, help the whole thing make perfect sense. But while I wouldn’t mind an additional viewing in the future to try and decipher them, my gut is telling me that they’re just not there to begin with. Ultimately, NOVEMBER is a visually gripping and psychologically intriguing movie with an attractive and competent leading lady and a good supporting cast – but by the time those mile-long credits begin to creep up the screen, you may not be able to shake that feeling that the Emperor is wearing no clothes.

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