The Quiet

on August 25, 2006 by John P. McCarthy
Deafness isn't the most original way of cutting a character off from the world, yet it works fairly well in this mannered drama about responses to pain, whether stemming from the loss of a loved one or an inappropriate relationship between loved ones. It suffices because director Jamie Babbit, in her second feature film, is able to shepherd three actresses through treacherous material.

On the surface, “The Quiet” is another examination of high school angst and the underside of suburban family life. It concerns an orphaned deaf-mute named Dot (Camilla Belle) who, following her father's death, moves in with her godparents and their cheerleader daughter Nina (Elisha Cuthbert). Pretty, popular Nina runs in the fast lane while Dot sits silently alone, seemingly frozen by her grief and bewildered by her new surroundings. Nina is hostile, especially when Dot garners the attention of the school stud, until secrets emerge and they find a common bond. Edie Falco is tremendous as Nina's tranquilized mother, while Martin Donovan plays her overly-attentive father. Incest scenes and frank sex talk generate discomfort that builds to a violent crescendo. We're approaching Todd Solondz territory, without the suspension of judgment and perverse if deadpan glee in sordidness. Screenwriters Abdi Nazemian and Micah Schraft want to champion these clenched and damaged women and their will to escape. Cinematographer M. David Mullen drapes the sad sisterhood in a creepy blue-gray light and the set decoration also enhances their predicament.

“The Quiet” fails to realize its ambition of melding the satirical levity of a teen high-school comedy with serious, issue-oriented drama. Forced elements, like voiceover commentary about Beethoven's hearing loss, outnumber telling smaller moments. Although too old for the role, Cuthbert acquits herself well. In a few short scenes, including one in which she doffs her duds, Falco offers stark counterpoint to Carmelo Soprano. Belle, accustomed to difficult gigs--“The Ballad of Jack and Rose” and the remake of “When a Stranger Calls”--conveys a great deal without words. Playing women desperately trying to hide, it's a testimony to their talents that you can't take your eyes off Cuthbert, Belle and Falco. Starring Elisha Cuthbert, Camilla Belle, Edie Falco, Martin Donovan, Shawn Ashmore and Katy Mixon. Directed by Jamie Babbit. Written by Abdi Nazemian and Micah Schraft. Produced by Carolyn Pfeiffer, Andrea Sperling, Joel Michaely and Holly Wiersma. A Sony Classics release. Drama. Rated R for strong and disturbing sexual content, a scene of violence, language, drug content and brief nudity. Running time: 98 min

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