REVIEW: Gabriel

7 07 2015

GabrielLou Howe’s “Gabriel” relies almost exclusively on two storytelling techniques: the slow parsing of details (as opposed to expository information) and dramatic irony.  From the outset, we can tell that Rory Culkin’s eponymous protagonist has something slightly off in his personality.  We do not know what this affliction is, but we can suspect his condition has been medically diagnosed and ineffectively treated.

Then, from our privileged position as spectators rather than participants, we can watch knowing that his increasingly erratic behavior will likely result in some sort of dramatic incident worth the price of admission.  If Howe wanted to start a discussion about mental illness, why not explicitly name Gabriel’s condition from the beginning (or make a documentary)?  No, we know that all his uncomfortable dealings with family and alienated friends can only lead to one end … and it certainly does not look promising or pretty.

The thousand dollar question for “Gabriel,” then, is whether the journey is worth taking, the descent worth watching?  The answer, for the most part, is yes.

Rory Culkin makes his character consistently compelling as he runs the gamut from sympathetic to indefensible and then to helpless.  Gabriel’s motives may appear unreasonable or irrational to us, but they clearly make sense to him.  Culkin always communicates that certainty, which often results in a successful eliciting of empathy as his actions fail to match his intentions.

His conduct drives most everyone predictably mad (or scared), though the most compelling scenes in “Gabriel” come when Culkin shares the screen with Deirdre O’Connell, who plays his long-suffering mother, Meredith.  She really knows how to hold Gabriel’s feet to the fire, and her complex response of understanding mixed with exasperation best mirrors our own as the audience.  B / 2halfstars

F.I.L.M. of the Week (June 4, 2010)

4 06 2010

The “F.I.L.M.” (First-Class, Independent Little-Known Movie – for those who needed a refresher) of the Week will return to some dark and hard-hitting material next week, but I will ease the transition from comedy to tragedy with something a little bit in between.  “You Can Count on Me,” one of the movies on my bucket list of Oscar nominees from the past decade, really grabbed my interest a few weeks ago.  It’s a smart, witty dramedy that treads on the familiar grounds of family issues but never feels contrived or recycled in the slightest.

There’s two reasons for that.  The first is Kenneth Lonergan, the film’s director and writer.  His script is insightful and sensitive, and it gives an authentic look at the ripple effect of a self-destructive brother’s return home to his distraught sister.  It lets the events play out in a way that is both touching and devastating.  We really come to know and care for these characters through their triumphs and their mistakes – and there are plenty of both.

But the second reason is the main reason for the movie’s success: leading lady Laura Linney (alliteration fully intended).  She plays emotional and tense women often, but she plays them with such conviction and strength that I can’t find it in me to be bothered by it.  Here, she uses her incredible energy to bring Sammy, the single mother and bank employee, to vibrant life.  Already collapsing under the weight of single parenthood, Sammy is forced to take on responsibility for her troubled brother Terry (Mark Ruffalo) who seems to be incapable of controlling himself.  With a new boss (Matthew Broderick) at the bank, she is forced to devote herself more fully to her job.  This leaves her child (Rory Culkin) under the care and influence of Terry, who exposes him to new ideas and heightens his curiosity about his father.  Linney perfectly animates Sammy’s inner conflict: doing what is best for the two people who need her or doing what makes her happy.

But there’s more good things about “You Can Count on Me” other than its two Academy Award-nominated facets.  Mark Ruffalo delivers a fascinating and astonishing performance.  He’s always trying to do what is right, but his moral compass often leads him in the wrong direction to do it.  Matthew Broderick is comic gold as the demanding and borderline obsessive-compulsive bank manager; he is equal parts charm and repulsion, and it’s always fun to watch him.  On the surface, this may be a movie about ordinary people living ordinary lives.  But thanks to a powerful narrative and compelling characters, it really is extraordinary.