Review: Unhook the Stars

Unhook the Stars is from 1996, and it’s a gem. I completely recommend it to you.

Unhook the Stars poster
Unhook the Stars poster

The film features Gena Rowlands as Mildred, the widowed mother of two adult children and the neighbor of Monica (Marisa Tomei) and her son J.J. (Jake Lloyd). When the film begins, Mildred is a buttoned down suburban housewife with a well-ordered life in spite of her two imperfect offspring.

Monica is a mess. Her life is a mess, her marriage is a mess, and she’s a mess of a mother. Mildred ends up babysitting for young J.J. and comes to regard him as her best friend.

Jake Lloyd and Gena Rowlands in Unhook the Stars
Jake Lloyd and Gena Rowlands in Unhook the Stars

Mildred’s daughter Annie (Moira Kelly) is an angsty mess herself, caught in the midst of a rebellion to separate herself from her mother. Mildred’s son Ethan (David Sherrill) is Mr. Success and mom’s clear favorite child.

Monica and J.J. have an effect on Mildred’s life in her empty nest of a suburban home. One effect Monica has on her it to take her out drinking where Mildred meets a truck driver named Tommy, played by Gérard Depardieu.

Unhook the Stars is a character study – a portrait of Mildred. Mildred is beautifully written and played to perfection by Gena Rowlands. Mildred is so clearly drawn and her evolution through her relationship with her children, her neighbors, and her potential suitor in the form of Tommy is masterfully done. I loved the story about how a woman comes into her own, finally, after what she thought for years was her real life as a wife and mother ends. It’s a tale of reinvention.

To a lesser degree, the film is also a portrait of Monica. Marisa Tomei just kicks ass in this part as a disorganized, inept, boozy mom and wife.

The film is a bit of a family affair. Rowlands’ son Nick Cassavetes co-wrote and directed the indie production.

I’m old enough to have reinvented myself a couple of times, and it is pure joy to watch Gena Rowlands go through a similar process in this film.

Image Credits: Unhook the Stars ©1996 Miramax Films.

Review: And While We Were Here

And While We Were Here is set on the Italian island of Ischia. It’s full of picture postcard views and gorgeous scenery. The film stars Kate Bosworth as Jane, Iddo Goldberg as her viola playing husband, and Jamie Blackley as a young American slacker Jane meets while in Italy.

Kate Bosworth and Jamie Blackley in And While We Were Here
Kate Bosworth and Jamie Blackley in And While We Were Here

Overall, And While We Were Here is subdued and reflective. Even the “fun” escapades Jane has with her young American are muted. The story, seemingly about a love affair, is really about loss and the letting go of loss.

The young American lover is merely a way for Jane to accept the inevitable consequences of her losses and move on with her life. He’s a way to unlock from the past and move toward the future.

As the film ended, I decided I would give the film a rating of 3 out of 5 stars, meaning it was worth watching but not fabulous. Then the credits rolled and Jennifer Warnes starting singing “Famous Blue Raincoat” and the whole story suddenly made sense. It was a movie version of “Famous Blue Raincoat.” I looked the film up and, indeed, the writer and director Kat Coiro was quoted as saying that she was inspired by the Leonard Cohen song. This knowledge doesn’t make we want to improve my rating, but it certainly puts the film into context and deepens my understanding.

If you enjoy introspective films that unfold slowly and deal with human efforts to “go clear,” you will enjoy this film.

Here’s the trailer.

The film was released in 2012. I found it on Netflix, so I’m sure it’s available on other streaming services as well.

Indies and Unfamiliar Faces: The Second Time Around

I often have a problem with films when the faces are unfamiliar. This applies to an awful lot of indie films I see. The problem is that I have trouble keeping track of who the characters are and what their contribution to the story is because I don’t recognize the faces. It makes it hard for me to keep everyone organized in my head.

I don’t blame this on the filmmakers or on the stories they are telling. It’s probably some brain glitch on my part that takes me a while to learn to distinguish faces. Slow synapses or some such.

Last night I watched a movie that had a whole lot of female characters. (How unusual for me!) Only the main character was an actress I’d seen and heard of before. And her face only looked identifiable from certain angles, because I hadn’t seen a lot of her. I couldn’t keep her interactions with all the other characters sorted because I had trouble remembering who everyone was. It’s not like watching August: Osage County, where every person on the screen is someone I’d seen dozens of times before.

The particular indie I saw last night was a good movie about a marriage gone stale, and I wanted to get more out of it.

I found a solution. I watched the film twice. The second time through I had better luck keeping track of who was who and what their particular part of the story meant in the overall scheme of things.

Now that I’ve discovered this trick, I will used it again on indie films with cast members I might not know so well (yet) and on foreign films with unfamiliar actors, too.

Do you have a trick for keeping the characters organized in your head when the faces are all unfamiliar to you?

Photo credit: The Kheel Center via Flickr