Falling Angels (2003)
Directed by Scott Smith, Written by Esta Spalding, based on the Novel by Barbara Gowdy.
And here we are with the first slow moving, character driven Canadian film of March - Falling Angels… starring, you guessed it, Callum Keith Rennie. But also featuring Mark McKinney! Mark McKinney being far more serious than in anything else I’ve seen him in yet, though he’s still not as serious as he could be. It also stars Miranda Richardson, Katherine Isabelle, Kristen Adams and Monté Gagné.
The film is set primarily in 1969 and follows the lives of three teenage sisters, Norma (Gagné), Lou (Isabelle) and Sandy (Adams) as well as the lives of their psychologically disturbed parents, Jim (Rennie) and Mary (Richardson).
I was getting extreme Virgin Suicides vibes throughout watching this film. Whether this is a good thing or not is yet to be decided. It’s about a dysfunctional family and it has over and undertones of secrets, of a world where nothing is explicitly drawn. There are societal expectations, personal expectations, emotional expectations. It is also a story of loss. Early on in the film we learn that our three teenaged girls once had a brother, who died mysteriously by disappearing at Niagara Falls.
You get a definite sense that Jim loves his family, but he’s simply insane. His thinking is so far off the planet that everything he does is a complete failure. No, it’s probably not very easy, but the way he treats all that he does and everyone he encounters leaves a lot to be desired. The only appropriate and remotely likeable present he gets for a member of his family at Christmas is Norma’s handyman’s belt. And whilst, great, he’s quite forward thinking in this way, what about everyone else? Jim is the 1960s equivalent of Ed, a socially dysfunctional father who drinks too much and is basically as ineffectual as humanly possible. Early in the piece, Jim shoots himself in the foot, which naturally hinders him literally as well as symbolically. It goes without saying that Callum’s performance is fantastic. He’s stilted and uncomfortable when he’s supposed to be. He plays awkward well.
Miranda Richardson is somewhat startling as Mary. I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated her properly as an actress before. There’s this amazing desperation and sense of loss about her in this role. It’s a cross between completely enthralling and yet totally soul destroying . Like a car crash or a house burning down. She’s forced to live in the past, she’s forced to live and you just can’t see what would make life better for her. It is impossible to know that if one thing were fixed, any other problem she perceived as existing would bow down and let her get on with the life she should be leading. What would she be doing as opposed to lying on the sofa staring blankly heavily intoxicated?
McKinney? He’s a good actor. I’ve always naturally assumed that anyway, having first seen him in Slings and Arrows (well, technically, Spice World but it’s not like I knew who he was then.) I’ve always thought of him as an actor, and held him to be good at his job. Until I did some research I had no idea he had done years of sketch comedy, and wouldn’t automatically have attributed that to him.
I wasn’t terribly surprised that he could do serious roles well, because out of all of the Kids, I’ve always felt like he’s the one who’s acting the most. Even when he’s ‘being himself’, he’s never being himself. The same can be said for all of them, of course, but there’s a closed-off, businesslike streak to McKinney. I was very disturbed to be watching a sex scene with him, however, which I later realised was strange, because I’d already witnessed one (and seen his naked arse) in the aforementioned S&A. Not to mention the myriads of Naked Mark McKinney sketches in KitH. Seeing him play twins was a new experience. One I won’t easily forget. In fact, seeing him play such creeps is an experience I won’t soon forget.
I felt I was supposed to sympathise with Lou, but I found I couldn’t very easily. I much preferred Norma, who should really be shunned for being the only one Jim shows any real consideration towards. Lou has every right to act the way she does, to be angry, to be upset, but we rarely see redeeming actions from her. I felt extremely sorry for Sandy up until the point she made a very clear decision as to her actions. She seemed to take control. I also felt sorry for Norma, who was clearly going to grow up being knocked and battered by a cruel world. Still, she had moments of happiness.
Overall, the film was weird. With weird things happening, and weird characters. I wish I could say something more intelligent than that, but my critical mind seems to have failed me. And sometimes, you can analyse all you want, but weird is the most apt term to use. I’m relatively sure that if I ever build up enough courage to watch Purple Toast, weird will be the most forcefully used word in my accompanying post. It could even be the only word in the post.
Yet, despite the weirdness, I don’t know how, the film felt cliché in many respects. Perhaps you know you’ve been watching too much slow moving, character driven Canadian cinema if you can say that. Maybe it is the effect of the film dealing in archetypes (the cynical angry child, the well-meaning different child, the seemingly naïve aspiring child, the bad parents) to send a universal message about the Human Condition. As so many of these films in this vein are wont to do. If they ever figure out exactly what the Human Condition is, it will be a sad day for slow moving, character driven films.
This really wasn’t the type of film for much ‘squee’, but I managed to find one moment. “Pitter patter, let’s get at her”… um, okay, that’s TOTALLY Callum’s phrase. Much like the fact he wears the same clothes in several of his projects, this is his. (I know it’s used by others, but it’s not that common.) Even if it isn’t just his, I adore it when he says it.
As far as production values go, the film was well made. The plot used gaps and out of chronology sequencing. The editing was interesting, especially in two or three scenes where mysterious possibly creepy things happened. I adored the soundtrack, which was jazz jazz jazz, occasional rock track, occasional protest track, occasional trip track, occasional folk song, jazz. The shot composition was well considered and nicely executed. Sets, costumes and settings all gave the appearance of the late 1960s which lends an aura of credibility. It was bleak where it needed to be bleak. Canadian where it needed to be Canadian.
I’m not sure I could exactly say I enjoyed it. But then, I didn’t enjoy The Virgin Suicides either. Nor did I exactly enjoy Flower and Garnet. Enjoyment or the lack thereof does not indicate value of respect or admiration. I think, when it comes down to it, I can be deep, I can be plenty deep, but I prefer being shallow. There’s something to be said for wanting to send joy, feel joy, act joyously. I have enough innate power in me to be depressed to warrant a lack of desire to watch depressing films. And yet, I can’t seem to escape them. The curse of seeing as many films and television shows with Callum as possible results in viewing confronting material I would ordinarily avoid. It’s a double edged sword of grotesqueries and delights.
Of course, I have a few screencaps, because- oh look, a 5 cent coin!!!
Callum in a hat!
Callum smoking in a hat!
Yes, throw that tree, Callum, throw it!
Mark plays a creep. I’m not loving the sideburns.
Actually, Mark plays two creeps. This whole shot is creepy. Falling Angels finally dispels the myth that double the Mark equals double the fun.
It’s a shame such a lovely grin had to be wasted on such a character.
I'm certainly getting my Mark McKinney and due South related actors fill for the day. I really do wish I could get paid for this.