The Life Before Her Eyes (Magnolia Pictures, R)

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The saving grace of this film is, not surprisingly, Wood’s standout performance as young Diana, a self-aware “bad-girl” who smokes pot, sleeps with older men and is full of attitude (a slightly more mature version of her character in Thirteen).

 

This new psychological drama from director Vadim Perelman (The House of Sand and Fog) stars Evan Rachel Wood and Uma Thurman as teenage and adult versions of the same troubled young woman. Young Diana and her best friend, Maureen (Eva Amurri, daughter of Susan Sarandon) experience the wrath of a Columbine-style shooter first-hand in the bathroom of their small-town Connecticut high school. Fifteen years later, adult Diana begins to unravel, haunted by survivor’s guilt and the memory of that fateful day.

The film bounces tediously back and forth between Diana then and Diana now, ultimately leading to a Sixth Sense-style surprise ending that leaves the viewer feeling more annoyed and cheated than anything. An intense bathroom scene between Diana, Maureen and the crazed teenage shooter is repeated throughout the film, revealing perhaps a bit more each time, yet feels like some sort of dramatic glorification of this most heinous and infamous of crimes.

The saving grace of this film is, not surprisingly, Wood’s standout performance as young Diana, a self-aware “bad-girl” who smokes pot, sleeps with older men and is full of attitude (a slightly more mature version of her character in Thirteen). Diana and Maureen represent the classic high school stereotypes of the virgin and the slut – best friends with conflicting lifestyles, well played by both young actresses. The very real and dynamic scenes between just the two of them almost make this film worth seeing on the big screen—almost.

Thurman’s adult Diana is far less interesting and endearing though, and makes it even hard to believe this would be the same strong, fiery woman played by Wood, even if she had been through post-traumatic stress. Thurman’s scenes are quite boring (made even more so by Diana’s husband, blandly played by Brett Cullen). Not to mention the obvious fact that other than long, blonde hair, the two really look nothing alike and certainly not enough to be the same character only 15 years apart.

The Life Before Her Eyes is based the novel of the same title by Laura Kasischke. I haven’t read the book, so I can’t really say how the film version stacks up, but I have a feeling the book was better (I really hope so anyway). The film would actually have been more interesting by taking a departure from the book and doing a complete character study on just the young Diana, her relationship with Maureen, her relationships with men, and the immediate impact of the defining moment of their lives. Instead it turns quickly into a M. Night Shyamalan film. | Amy Burger

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