Published Dec 11, 2008With the canvas as metaphor for the healing properties of art and the malleability of childhood, Canvas succeeds in communicating its point and features some intense, if slightly flawed, performances but struggles severely with contrivances aplenty, awkward and unnatural scenarios, and a television movie aesthetic.
While these efforts to throw in cinematic circumlocutions, in the form of sewing, boat construction and painting, are admirable in a film student kind of way, they ultimately make this accurate depiction of schizophrenia and its impact on loved ones feel laboured and insincere.
When Mary Marino's (Marcia Gay Harden) struggle with delusion and paranoia gets too out of hand for husband John (Joe Pantoliano) to contain, the authorities are called in and mama Marino is institutionalized. While John demonstrates detachment and agitation, coping with the departure of his wife through a preoccupation with building a sailboat (boat equals form of security on the turbulent and unstable waters of schizophrenia), son Chris (Devon Gearhart) battles both the embarrassment and implications of having a mentally ill parent while feeling distanced from his increasingly erratic father.
Taking this scenario out of Meredith Baxter territory are notable performances from both Harden and Pantoliano. While Harden plays Mary a little too twitchy and creepy during down moments and Pantoliano overdoes irritability as visible means of despondency, they are able to convey the heartache of love within a doomed and lamentable marriage. In addition, their lack of fear in occasionally appearing loathsome for the sake of character integrity is commendable, given that many of their dealings are with a child who they both neglect and harm despite genuine familial love.
At its core, Canvas is a thoughtful and compassionate film about the nature of mental illness and its many corollaries but too many genuinely queer side stories, conveniences and cringe-worthy exchanges keep the film from having the impact for which it so desperately strives. (Vagrant)