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Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kathy Bates, Jack Kehler, Sarah Koskoff, Stephen Tobolowsky

Directed by: Todd Louiso
Written by: Gordy Hoffman
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

US: 30/12/02 UK: 31/01/03

Wilson Joel is in trouble. A violent pain in the gut he can't stand; and a dazed quietness to his struggle as he tries to maintain equilibrium and move on from the sudden and inexplicable suicide of his wife. His mother-in-law is there for him, but her sympathies turn quickly. He has an employer who seems to want to thelp him and a co-worker who wants him for herself, but nothing and no one can give solace. So he seeks oblivion. It is not the usual alcohol or drugs - Wilson inhales fumes from gasoline cans and model airplane fuel and finds temporary salvation in the company of remote-control model enthusiasts... but nothing lasts.
Top notch catch with the ever reliable Hoffman and Bates. Sounds kinda weird - but is it also kinda wonderful like Hoffman's last supporting outing in Punch Drunk Love? And is the flick's writer. Gordy Hoffman, related to the star?

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The portly Hoffman and Bates discuss diet tips and sniffing gas.


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Actor Louiso (High Fidelity) turns director for this award-winning but belaboured examination of grief. Wilson (Hoffman, whose brother wrote the script) is understandably shattered when his wife commits suicide, so much so that he sleeps on his living room floor, refuses to read the suicide note and lets his work for a web design firm slip badly. He finds it impossible to communicate with anyone, least of all his mother-in-law (Bates), who is herself struggling badly, also understandably! A concerned colleague (Koskoff) suggests that Wilson spend time with her model-racer brother (Kehler) as a kind of therapy, and Wilson's initial keenness suggests this may be helping. He gets a prestigious new job for a wealthy client (Toblowsky) ... but his increasing addiction to petrol fumes threatens everything.

The film opens in the shattered silence of grief and pretty much stays there for 90 minutes. This quiet awkwardness is startlingly real, and painful to watch, especially with such a fine actor as Hoffman on screen, fully inhabiting the role. As Wilson gets deeper and deeper into his nightmare, becoming increasingly helpless to sort himself out, the film does find a real resonance. And yet, it continually refuses to go anywhere! Sure there are moments of sharp humour and anger, confusion and insight. But as Wilson becomes more like a spoiled child unwilling (rather than just unable) to cope, the film starts to grate. His mental imbalance becomes more than a little scary, and yet it never tips over the edge. There are also a few underexplained gaps in the story, especially in the interplay between Hoffman and Bates (who's also superb). Louiso's direction is clever and revealing, and Gordy Hoffman's script captures some difficult truths. But in their raw examination of grief and pain the filmmakers forgot that this is a movie--it needs to tell us something we don't already know. It needs to go somewhere, to stop wallowing and get on with the story.

 


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