Stage and Cinema film and theatre reviews
 

 

POETRY IN SNOW MOTION

 

picture - Snow AngelsFilm Review

by Kevin Bowen

published April 18, 2008

 

Snow Angels

rated R

now showing in select theaters

 

For a film widely reputed to be three corpses short of a full mortuary, we’ll start talking about David Gordon Green’s Snow Angels in an odd place. We’ll talk about its sense of humor.

 

The latest entry from the rural film poet takes full advantage of the quirks of its snowbound northern town. An estranged father cooks hot dogs in a toaster. A tattooed tough guy stands accused of adultery while doing laundry in a fluffy robe. A Chinese restaurant employs a staff of Caucasians without an Asian in sight. The style isn’t sufficiently clandestine to call “subtle.” But it doesn’t dance for the camera, either. Green has a spongy eye for the unnoticed inane detail, found in small things in small places.

 

For all the visual glory of his two indie standards George Washington and All the Real Girls, Green’s real strength is the Faulknerian knowledge that he feels for his characters and their isolated worlds. This is a man who knows how they eat their pizza (cheese and pepperoni first). Green is often compared to his friend, mentor, and basketball teammate Terrence Malick. But where Malick is a lyric poet adept at intellectual speculation, Green moves to lonely heartbeats, exploring the explosiveness of love.

 

It’s odd that Green demonstrates such a grasp of details, because details of their emotional conditions are precisely what elude his characters. A running Green theme is the overpowering mystery of love and the hopelessness of words (and minds) to lasso it and express it effectively. In what appears to be a meaningless scene but isn’t, the film’s teenage lovebirds, Arthur and Lila, go so far as to look up the meaning of “blowjob” in a slang dictionary. The film’s older couples know the vocabulary and the routines, but it doesn’t lead to a clearer understanding. Notice no adult has advice for the teen-agers, no secrets of love, beyond to say it’s complicated. At the same time, they are aware that its sweet venom can be carried in something as simple as the right song.

 

The film opens with the wrong song, the strains (and we mean strains) of the world’s worst high school marching band, wandering innocently out of step and out of tune on an icy field.  Shortly, the scene surrenders to a less pleasing sound of love – two gunshots, sharp, distant cracks across the everlasting snow. With this introduction, we launch into the romantic entanglements that give the film its bleak reputation. The sweet experimentations of Arthur and Lila (Michael Angerano and the going-places Olivia Thirlby) are often accompanied by her trusty camera.  Later, we see another photo of a teenage couple, an old photo of Annie and her estranged husband Glenn (Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell). That picture has given way to gloomier circumstances. She is a newly single mom trying to care for her child while dealing with the agonizing swirl of men. He is a friendly but mentally disturbed man, who has turned to Christianity to try to tame the demons inside. The two relationships stand opposed, yet we know from experience that one can wind into the other. Spiritually in between these two poles stand Arthur’s parents (Griffin Dunne and Jeanetta Arnette), who seem to ebb and flow between affection and alienation.  

 

Green is in transition from poetic lyricism to a more direct dramatic style. This transition has its rough edges. At times, especially the climax, he goes with drama when a touch of poetry might work better. For the most part, though, things go smoothly, showing Green’s ability to address the same themes in a broader way. Yet those familiar with his other movies will find comfort in the presence of cinematographer Tim Orr, who gives the film its snowy majesty, painting a moment of frozen desperation.

 

Snow Angels is a healthy rebound from 2005’s Undertow and a calling card for more conventional (and more commercially viable) projects (Green might as well attach resumes to the reels.). But in the true auteur sense, Snow Angels holds fast to the interests and concerns that move its director – the sledgehammer of the human heart. 

 

kevinbowen @ stageandcinema.com

 

 
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