Published Sep 01, 2005Wonders never cease: a Sundance movie with something to it beyond cuteness or obvious statement-mongering.
Embeth Davitz stars as Madeline, a dealer in outsider art who marries Southern transplant George (Alessandro Nivola). While travelling down near his hometown to try and bag a client, they visit his family with predictably tense results: George's mother (Celia Weston) hates Madeline on sight, while father Eugene (Scott Wilson) is a non-presence and underachieving brother Jimmy (Benjamin McKenzie) hates George for his highfalutin success. But this is no Meet the Parents.
Writer Angus McLachlan has imagined an extremely complex smash-up between Northern sophisticates and "ordinary" Southern folk, with bad faith on both sides messing up the relationship. It also takes on the deeply thorny issue of outsider art and the motives that drive its consumption, coming up with a combination of awe and misunderstanding that can't be written off one way or the other.
The key role, however, is that of Jimmy's pregnant wife Ashley (Amy Adams), a vivacious naïf who provides the screen on which the characters must project - how they perceive this jubilant know nothing will decide their fate in the narrative. Director Phil Morrison is pointed but unobtrusive in his direction, guiding us to points without slapping us in the face. The performances are just as strong, with The O.C.'s McKenzie in a solid turn and Ashley left in the capable hands of Amy Adams.
The latter walks away with the movie in a powerhouse performance that provides the anchor for the rest of the actors - not only did she deserve her Sundance award, but she's as good a reason as any to see this unusual and intelligent family drama. (Mongrel Media)