Director: Dan Harris
Ordinary People meets American Beauty in twenty-five year old writer/director Dan Harris’s painfully real, quirky study of the coping mechanisms and evolving stages of grief in the suburban Travis family after their secretly unhappy, champion swimming son abruptly commits suicide. Sigourney Weaver leads a stellar cast as Sandy, the angry mother who reacts with bitter wit and a new hobby of chasing away her troubles by getting high. Unable to accept the fact that he may have contributed to the pressures placed on his heroic, deceased son, father Ben (Jeff Daniels) withdraws from everyone by choosing a park bench for solitude over the daily grind of the office. With his older sister (Michelle Williams) often away at college, the film mostly follows Tim (Emile Hirsch), the youngest son of sensitive, confused and artistic temperament, who struggles to hold everything together while trying to decipher the miscommunications, secrecy and deceptions within his own family. An intelligent, startling and mature film—at times overly somber and unrelenting—newcomer Dan Harris (who has also written the screenplays for Superman Returns and an X-Men film, showing his vast range) received a Special Mention Award for Excellence in Filmmaking from the National Board of Review. Tackling grief cinematically is difficult in today’s increasingly hip, sensationalized and sarcastic entertainment environment but Harris’s film manages to deftly walk the line of American Beauty-like satire without crossing over into staginess, making the film more authentic and effective than another recent ode-to-grief, the over-the-top but otherwise affable Joan Allen vehicle The Upside of Anger.