Snow Angels (Warner Independent Pictures, R)

film_snow-angels_sm.jpgSnow Angels works, but frankly, most of the reason it does is the casting.        










Here’s your last chance to jump on the David Gordon Green bandwagon before this summer’s The Pineapple Express.

Green has been one of my favorite modern directors ever since his masterful debut, George Washington, back in 2000. His second film, All the Real Girls, was my favorite film of 2003, and remains one of my three favorites of the new millennium. (Speaking of which, Girls has been gaining popularity lately, as it has gotten a lot of references during Zooey Deschanel’s press tour for her recently released album with M. Ward. Also because of the fact that it is, you know, one of the best romances ever to have been filmed.) His third, 2004’s Undertow, wasn’t bad by any stretch, but its Night of the Hunter throwback style was a bit at odds with the dreamy, ethereal pace of Washington and Girls. Of his three previous films, Snow Angels is most like Undertow. And then, of course, next up is Pineapple Express, which comes from the Apatow family, was written by the two guys that wrote Superbad, and reunites two of the stars of Freaks & Geeks. Obviously, it’s one of the most anticipated movies of the summer.

But wait! I shouldn’t be talking about that. This review is of Snow Angels, Green’s moody adaptation of the Stuart O’Nan novel of the same name. I first saw the film at Sundance 2007, and I said then that it was one of the best films of the festival. Snow Angels tells three parallel stories. The one given the most screen time and weight is that of Annie and Glenn, a divorced couple who try to get along for their daughter’s sake, as well as their own. Annie (Kate Beckinsale) is basically responsible and loving, but she has a few problems of her own, not least of which is that she’s sleeping with her best friend/co-worker’s husband. Glenn (Sam Rockwell) is a recovering suicidal alcoholic trying to prove to Annie that he is responsible enough to take care of their daughter and perhaps even responsible enough to take care of Annie.

The storyline that I think is the most interesting regards high school student Arthur (Michael Angarano) and his flowering romance with the new, artsy student in school, Lila (Olivia Thirlby, last seen as Ellen Page’s best friend in Juno). Arthur works with Annie, and (this ties in nicely with Anne and Glenn’s story) Arthur’s parents are getting a divorce, so we get to see the effects of divorce from a different angle. The final story is that of Arthur’s parents, but they get very little screen time. It makes one think that this part of the story was a little better fleshed out in the source material.

Snow Angels works, but frankly, as much as I love Green, I think most of the reason it does is the casting—this is the first movie I saw Thirlby in, and I was willing to attest five minutes after the screening that she will have a long, great career. Amy Sedaris and Nicky Katt play the married couple that Annie breaks apart through her cheating. Seems strange watching this that Sedaris hasn’t ever really been given a good shot at being a character actress before, and Katt, while playing the sort of role that he is known for (he’s the Dominant Male Monkey Motherfucker from Dazed & Confused), is at his best here. Rockwell’s always good (although sometimes it seems like he’s tapping into Bob Odenkirk), Angarano is good, and even Beckinsale, whom I’ve never liked at all before, is good.

Green’s direction is subtly gentle as well as devastating, much how it was in Undertow. This makes me wonder: it appears at this early stage in his career that Green makes films in tonal pairs, so what Hollywood nonsense will come after Pineapple Express? Hopefully financing will come back to his unfortunately aborted adaptation of The Confederacy of Dunces; he’s one of the only directors on the planet who I would trust with that material. And after Express, he might just have the sway to make it happen. | Pete Timmermann

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