Winter Solstice

on April 08, 2005 by Bridget Byrne
The ordinary in "Winter Solstice" is both its strength and its weakness. It is satisfying to see fine actors express emotions in a completely relatable way, but the dimensions of the sorrows and understanding depicted don't really make for much dramatic excitement.

From the moment Anthony LaPaglia appears on screen as Jim Winters tending to mundane household chores, you understand the man's efforts to cope, to keep the lid on his feelings by dealing only with the essential. But that containment is a pressure cap to his grief, which inevitably seeps out in despair or explodes in anger as, widowed by a car accident, he tries to raise two sons, each in their own way rebellious at their fate. The older son, Gabe (Aaron Stanford), reacts to the feeling of being trapped in a dead end by itching to leave town, while his younger brother Pete (Mark Webber) turns his frustration in on himself.

Despite the symbolism of the title, with its connotations of dormancy, hibernation, and time out to build strength for the budding seasons to come in the cyclical passage of life -- and the fact that Winters is a landscape gardener -- the film doesn't dabble in symbolism or have a touchy-feely psychological bent. There's a casual ease to Josh Sternfeld's depiction of small-town New Jersey life and the need for shifts and changes to be accepted if relationships are to survive. The performances are all fine, including Ron Livingston as Pete's schoolteacher, Michelle Monaghan as a girlfriend it's surprising Gabe would want to leave behind, and Alison Janney as a kind newcomer to the neighborhood, who is a charming spark of hope for Winters' brighter future. Starring Anthony LaPaglia, Aaron Stanford, Mark Webber, Alison Janney and Ron Livingston. Directed by Josh Sternfeld. Written by Josh Sternfeld. Produced by John Limotte and Doug Bernheim. A Paramount Classics release. Drama. Rated R for language. Running time: 90 min

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