Director: Nick Cassavetes
With Unhook the Stars, Nick Cassavetes proves he inherited his father’s love of character-driven drama that made the elder Cassavetes (the legendary John), the so-called grandfather of independent film. Starring Nick’s mother (and John’s wife and favorite leading lady) Gena Rowlands, this intimate family drama deals with finding a new path during middle age. Millie Hawkes (Rowlands), a widowed suburbanite who finds herself lonely after her adult children have left the nest to lead their own lives, is one of those warm-hearted cinematic characters whose life is given meaning by looking after others. Not only is Rowlands severed by a terrific script penned by Nick and co-writer Helen Caldwell, but the own inviting personality that Rowlands embodies helps make Millie a fully realized character, brought even further to life by costar Marisa Tomei as her wild neighbor Monica Warren. After Monica’s abusive husband leaves, she is forced to turn to Millie who quickly becomes the caretaker and unlikely best friend of Monica’s young son, J.J. (Jake Lloyd). Rowland’s scenes with Lloyd are filmed with a fondness and nostalgia that makes one wonder if it’s Nick’s way of paying homage to the mother he remembers growing up and he does indeed salute both parents by naming some of the female characters after John’s famous characters during his cinematic career. Gerard Depardieu (also a producer on the film) turns in a fine albeit understated and brief role as a trucker named “Big Tommy” who develops an attraction to Millie when Monica grudgingly forces her out of her house for a night on the town. While the roughly ninety minute film does grow a tad long given a lengthy depressing section of self-pity when Millie finds herself once again alone, the film’s spirit wins us over and ultimately makes us forgive the vague ending that raises several questions. Both Rowlands and Tomei were nominated for their fine performances by the Screen Actor’s Guild Awards in 1997 and Nick Cassavetes won the Director’s Week Award at Fatasporto.