A married couple's long relationship is torn asunder when the husband (Gordon Pinsent) is forced to commit his Alzheimer's-stricken wife (Julie Christie) to a nursing home.
Away From Her
, which marks the feature film directorial debut of actress Sarah Polley (
Beowulf & Grendel
Dawn of the Dead
) is one of those “small” movies that, because it's uncompromisingly honest, risks being inflated into something more than it is. The film suffers from the flaws of most movies based on short stories, in this case an Alice Munro tale called “The Bear Came Over the Mountain”--namely underwritten characters, who in a feature film need more description and background than they can get away with in the smaller confines of a shorter literary form. Grant and Fiona, the Canadian couple at the center of the movie, are simply too thinly conceived, which means the audience must intuit their deep bonds, which they talk about incessantly, rather than actually feeling them. And, while Pinsent is fine as the stubborn Grant, who can barely hold on in the face of his wife's calamity, Christie too often delivers a self-conscious, affected performance; you never really believe in her senility.
Much better are the sequences in the film involving Grant's interactions with a kindly but tough nurse (Kristen Thomson) and, especially, his gradually warming relationship with a spare, no-nonsense American woman (a superb Olympia Dukakis) whose husband (Michael Murphy) also suffers from Alzheimer's and, worse, is becoming emotionally entangled with Fiona. Polley, who demonstrated a natural ability behind the camera in her excellent 2001 short
I Shout Love, about the aftermath of a passionate relationship, reaffirms her talent here; she moves fluidly and confidently from intimate scenes to those painted on a broader canvas. But, as in many English-Canadian movies, hers is a screenplay in dire need of fine tuning.
Cast: Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent and Olympia Dukakis
Director/Screenwriter: Sarah Polley
Producers: Daniel Iron, Simone Urdl and Jennifer Weiss
Rating: PG-13 for some strong language
Running time: 112 min.
Release date: May 4, 2007 NY/LA, May 11 exp, May 18 exp