The Safety of Objects

"OK"

The Safety of Objects Review


For all of Robert Altman's greatness, his lasting legacy to future filmmakers may be the wrongheaded assumption that anyone can successfully weave together sprawling, multi-character stories into a coherent thematic experience. With the exception of a scant few disciples (headed by the visionary Paul Thomas Anderson), these spiritual and technical descendents of Altman's films, too often hampered by schematic plotting and clumsy melodrama, routinely turn out to be wobbly facsimiles of Altman's operatic, multi-layered storytelling. The latest release that falls into said category is Rose Troche's The Safety of Objects, an uneven tale (based on the short stories of A.M. Homes) of intertwined suburban families dealing with grief and loss, and its failed bid for originality takes the form of an unreasonably high quirkiness quotient.

Despite an awful title that's perfectly suited for a hospital or construction site safety guide, the objects in question are not dirty syringes or rusty nails; rather, The Safety of Objects is brimming with narrative strands about people coping with life's most difficult and daunting elements (the loss of a loved one, sexual frustration, professional ennui) by focusing their quests for happiness on either their unsatisfying careers or mundane possessions such as dishwashers, guitars, and treadmills. Esther Gold (Glenn Close) fanatically dotes on her comatose songwriter son Paul (Joshua Jackson) in lieu of caring for her husband Howard (Robert Klein) and rebellious daughter Julie (Jessica Campbell). Neighbor Annette Jennings (Patricia Clarkson) is a single mother trying to take care of her two kids while waging a financial and personal battle with her ex-husband. Lawyer Jim Train (Dermot Mulroney) can't see the forest from the trees because of his fixation with work, and his constant absence from his wife and kids has made him unaware of son Jake's (Alex House) creepy relationship with a Barbie-esque doll that speaks to him. And in a prime example of dysfunctional overload, we even get sexually frustrated, fanatically health conscious housewife Helen Christiansen (Mary Kay Place), as well as neighborhood gardener Randy (Timothy Olyphant), who's dealing with the death of his adolescent brother.

At least for its first half, Troche manages to introduce her rag-tag group of characters with an understated focus on life's minute details, careful not to inflate their small, personal stories to pompous heights. The inconsolable despondency of Esther's stunted maternal life is given resonance by Close's closed-off performance, a quiet portrait of grief and rage conveyed through pursed lips and trembling cadences. Similarly, Annette is a woman fraying at the seams, and Clarkson's performance - following on the heels of her splendid work in Far From Heaven and All the Real Girls - naturally blends frazzled anger with an earthy seductiveness masking hopeless grief. On the slender but sturdy shoulders of these two great actresses, Troche wisely balances her film's fate.

Unfortunately, as the characters' lives unfold in increasingly bizarre fashion - Jim becomes Esther's fanatical coach in a radio station contest (a test of endurance that requires her to keep her hands on a car for longer than her competitors); Randy decides to literally replace his brother with a similar-looking child - the director's narrative juggling act comes to a crashing halt, with obvious thematic markers cropping up everywhere in what seems like the director's vain attempt to overtly spell out the film's intentions. The redemptive third act culminates in an act of murder made infinitely more despicable by the disastrous decision to infuse this selfish crime with an unwarranted nobility. Troche may believe that this is a path to healing and happiness, but her unbelievable conclusion never rises above being a dramatically neat and convenient way to provide phony resolution.

The finale's misstep magnifies the fact that the film's most moving relationship is found not in any of the film's tales of woe, but in Jake's budding affair with an inanimate girl's plaything. As the young boy lavishes his plastic girlfriend with soft caresses, extravagant gifts (including a baby grand piano), and sweet nothings in her ear, what is undoubtedly the strangest and funniest romance one is likely to see in a movie theater this year comes to hilarious, poignant life. Too bad that Troche's The Safety of Objects is ultimately more interested in confronting grief with ponderous solemnity and insincere syrupy gestures than with the light, jovial touch one can feel lurking behind the film's oppressively bleak (and, in the end, falsely uplifting) façade.

Was it good for you?



The Safety of Objects

Facts and Figures

Run time: 121 mins

In Theaters: Friday 15th August 2003

Box Office USA: $86.2k

Distributed by: IFC Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 49%
Fresh: 36 Rotten: 38

IMDB: 6.6 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Esther Gold, as Jim Train, as Annette Jennings, as Julie Gold, as Paul Gold, as Susan Train, as Howard Gold, as Randy, as Helen Christianson, as Sam Jennings

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Cars 3 Movie Review

Cars 3 Movie Review

It's been six years since the last Cars movie (there were two Planes movies in...

The Beguiled Movie Review

The Beguiled Movie Review

In her inimitable loose style, Sofia Coppola remakes the 1971 Clint Eastwood movie from a...

War for the Planet of the Apes Movie Review

War for the Planet of the Apes Movie Review

The surprisingly thoughtful prequel trilogy comes to a powerful conclusion with this robust, dramatic thriller,...

It Comes At Night Movie Review

It Comes At Night Movie Review

This sharply original horror film not only approaches its premise from an unexpected angle, but...

Okja Movie Review

Okja Movie Review

As Tilda Swinton reteams with her Snowpiercer director, Korea's Bong Joon Ho, it's perhaps unsurprising...

Spider-Man: Homecoming Movie Review

Spider-Man: Homecoming Movie Review

This may be the third reboot of this franchise in 15 years, risking audience exhaustion,...

Despicable Me 3 Movie Review

Despicable Me 3 Movie Review

Actually the fourth film in the series (don't forget the prequel Minions), this animated super-villain...

Advertisement
Baby Driver Movie Review

Baby Driver Movie Review

Wildly energetic and so cool it hurts, this action movie has been put together in...

All Eyez On Me Movie Review

All Eyez On Me Movie Review

There's a clear sense that this Tupac Shakur biopic is hoping to build on the...

Hampstead Movie Review

Hampstead Movie Review

Deliberately appealing to older audiences, this undemanding comedy-drama comes with a hint of social relevance...

The Book of Henry Movie Review

The Book of Henry Movie Review

Apparently, this offbeat script had been making the rounds in Hollywood for some 20 years...

Transformers: The Last Knight Movie Review

Transformers: The Last Knight Movie Review

With this fifth Transformers movie, it seems clear that Michael Bay is still trying to...

Churchill Movie Review

Churchill Movie Review

This drama about the iconic British prime minister tells a darkly personal story set over...

Gifted Movie Review

Gifted Movie Review

This is one of those films that dances right up to the edge of soapy...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.