Greetings again from the darkness. The emotional turmoil in the aftermath of being the victim of sexual assault is incomprehensible to anyone who hasn’t experienced such trauma. Writer-director Katie Holmes and Phaedon A Papadopoulos have adapted Kathleen Tessaro’s 2016 novel, transitioning it from depression-era to modern day New York City. At the center of the story are two women, one working diligently to regain some control of her life, and another with a form of mental illness that seems to prevent a return to normalcy.
We first see Benita (Julia Mayorga, “American Rust”) as she is ending her stay for therapy. She has been the victim of a sexual assault that led to an abortion. Her reunion with her mother (Saundra Santiago, “Miami Vice”) is quite awkward since Benita hasn’t told her mom any of what she’s been through … only that she’s taking some time off from college classes. As Benita looks for a job in the old neighborhood, we see her visions and flashbacks – what led to the attack, as well as her bonding with Diana (director Katie Holmes) during therapy.
The owner (Alan Cumming) of a local antique shop takes a shine to Benita and not only offers her a job, but also tutors her on how best to deal with their customer base. One of those customers happens to be the same Diana from therapy. It turns out Diana and her brother come from big money, and he does what he can for his sister. Things get interesting when the shop’s co-owner, Winshaw (Derek Luke, Holmes’ co-star in PIECES OF APRIL, 2003) shows up. Life lessons and philosophical mutterings are sprinkled throughout conversations in the shop, and Benita really values her budding friendship on the outside with Diana.
The lessons here are plenty, and most of them are quite obvious and re-treads from other stories. One can’t ever really go home again and have it be the same. Old friends may run into each other, but the connection is different in adulthood (partners, kids, jobs, etc all change people’s priorities). We can all make new friends, but if the history isn’t there, the bond is only so strong. Alan Cumming offers up the best lesson when he discusses how broken vases can be reassembled, with their repaired cracks creating more beauty and value. Everyone in this movie is broken in their own way, and it’s true that for those who persevere, the cracks add strength and beauty. Julie Mayorga is a rising star, and Saundra Santiago, Derek Luke, and Alan Cumming all deliver their usual strong performances. Looking at bad memories as bad dreams can often help folks recover, but true mental illness is a significant battle for all involved. As a side note, this is yet another movie where the background music is played entirely too loud and often interferes with the dialogue and flow.
Greetings again from the darkness. First time director Lorene Scafaria is best known for her wonderful script for Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist. Directing her own script here, we are left wondering if the gaps are in the writing or directing, but it’s clear Ms. Scafaria loves long titles. Matilda, a giant asteroid, is headed towards Earth and life will cease to exist in 3 weeks. Upon hearing this news, Dodge’s wife Linda (played by Steve Carell‘s real-life wife) takes off running away from him and supposedly into the arms of her secret love affair partner.
Dodge (Carell) has little reaction to the bailing of his wife or even to the impending Armageddon. In fact, he strikes us as the guy who has had little reaction to much in life and has no idea who he really is. While he does have some acquaintances and a predictably boring job at an insurance company, Dodge shows no inclination to join in the festivities of excess (drugs, sex, religion, riots) enjoyed by others, and instead offers up a lame, sure-to-fail suicide attempt to go with his droopy demeanor and overall lethargy.
It takes little time for Dodge to be saddled with an abandoned dog named Sorry and a crying neighbor named Penny (Keira Knightley). This part of the film is actually its best feature. We get the forced partnership of this odd couple and a road trip that allows for some interaction with others. The others include standout scenes with William Peterson, Bob Stephenson and TJ Miller (below, left, the host at Friendsy’s, a TGIF themed diner that devolves into a lovefest that neither Dodge nor Penny care to partake.
The road trip does have the outline of a purpose. Dodge wants to re-connect with his high school sweetheart and Penny wants to get home to England in time to say goodbye to her parents. However, it’s pretty clear that the main reason for the road trip is to allow Dodge and Penny to fall in love. Just another apocalyptic rom-com.
I totally get the “opposites attract” approach, but I found Knightley to be far beyond quirky (John Cale and Leonard Cohen vinyl) and closer to her mentally unstable character in the first hour of A Dangerous Method. As for Dodge, he may be the nice guy that Penny sees, but mostly his life force hovers just above zero, while wearing sweaters that would fit right into Mr. Rodgers’ neighborhood. It’s not until he visits his estranged dad (Martin Sheen) that he shows signs of a pulse. It’s kind of interesting to pay attention to the names in the film. Dodge is ironic given what’s headed toward Earth. Penny may or may not be lucky depending on your interpretation. A survivalist named Speck, who doesn’t get that his preparations make no difference. And, of course, a dog named Sorry.
2011 brought us two fascinating end-of-the world films in Melancholiaand Another Earth. This one avoids the manic depression of one or the science fiction of the other. While I never really bought into the heightened attraction of these two who miraculously become kindred spirits thanks to the time constraints, their relationship does provide fodder for thought. What would you do if you knew things were ending in 3 weeks? Would your true self finally make an appearance? If so, what are you waiting for? The message really is … our time is limited so don’t waste it.
SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you wouldn’t mind a little Herb Alpert with your apocalypse OR you need a primer in the greatness of vinyl records, even if the knowledge won’t help once the asteroid hits
SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: a hyper, twisted-faced Keira Knightley is not your ideal partner at the end regardless of the pristine condition of her John Cale and Leonard Cohen albums