Luminous Motion

on September 16, 1998 by Steve Schneider
   Films this daring remind us how safe and predictable the independent movement has actually become. Without reservation or apology, director Bette Gordon adapts Scott Bradfield's provocative novel, "The History of Luminous Motion," into a cinematic moral challenge that's a twisted take on the concept of family fare. In its own way, it could even be termed a buddy picture--albeit one that shatters our closely held assumptions of the form.

   Though single-parent stories are all the rage these days, there's no adequate preparation for our introduction to "Mom" (Debra Kara Unger), a prostitute and petty thief who spirits her preteen son, Philip (Eric Lloyd), away on her cross-country spree of motel pickups and quick-cash scams. We're outraged at the boy's exposure to seediness, but disturbed even further by the knowledge that he's absolutely thrilled to be part of a lifestyle that emphasizes excitement over stability. That choice becomes harder to question, however, when me meet "Dad" (Jamey Sheridan), a corporate climber of a control freak whose interest in reuniting the family amounts to little more than a greedy desire to reclaim lost possessions. In the most biting of the script's many ironies, we realize that Mom is on most levels the better guardian.

   The resulting push-and-pull on Philip's fragile identity manifests itself in a series of psychotic episodes that blur the line between perception and reality. Cinematographer Teodoro Maniaci does a bravura job of essaying the inner conflict in visual terms: Imaginary father figures dart in and out of the boy's daydreams, their heightened movements perpetually several frames out of sync with the surrounding action. It's as if a parade of flip-book phantoms had intruded upon a world that was stuck in a state of suspended animation. Partaking of "Luminous Motion" keeps us similarly (and blessedly) off balance.    Starring Eric Lloyd, Deborah Kara Unger, Terry Kinney and Jamey Sheridan. Directed by Bette Gordon. Produced by Anthony Bregman and Ted Hope. An Artistic License release. Drama. Unrated. Running time: 93 min.

Tags: adaptation, family drama, prostitute, children, Deborah Kara Unger, Jamey Sheridan, Bette Gordon, Scott Bradfield, Terry Kinney, Eric Lloyd, psychology

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