Movie Review: Irene in Time (2009)

Tanna Frederick & Writer/Director Henry Jaglom's
First Collaboration Since Hollywood Dreams

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Although my first viewing of the film was fascinating to say the least, it wasn't until after I hit eject that I discovered that like a song that gets stuck in your head, Irene in Time will continue dancing there long after the final reel.

Of course, it remains true to Jaglom's par-for-the-course decision at times to push for confrontational and searing examinations of tremendously flawed individuals via performances that go way beyond the natural and flow into exaggerated Fellini meets Cassavetes terrain to drive his theses home. However, overall the work is an engrossing exploration of emotional time where the enigmatic clues move back and forth like waves on the ocean he always seems to capture in the distance throughout the movie. And to this end, it's one where the final act will occur after the last piece of celluloid has flickered from view whether it's in the cup-of-coffee, drive home, or your walk towards the parking lot.

A challenging cinematic offering that works infinitely better in retrospect when you can piece it all together and one that is best appreciated with another and much closer look-- my reaction to Time was cemented the following day when I shared the screener from Jaglom's Rainbow Films with another.

For now with the film still fresh in my mind and the ability to plunge deeper into it as I could move beyond the overwhelming central character, I was astounded by the previously subtle narrative repetitions in dialogue and plot as I dissected it with the other viewer. While they had an understandably hard time accepting the characterization of our sensitive yet unspeakably immature central heroine who's still hung up on the father who'd vanished into the sea when she was a girl-- since I'd already been able to accept that and narrow my focus instead on the heartrending mystery, suddenly I realized that there may be much more going on in the movie than initially meets the eye.

Intriguingly described as "a puzzle about love and time, a mystery in which clues are found and secrets are revealed," in the film's synopsis-- it's this unique word choice in the description that helped tip off the underpinnings of Time as a magic realism tinged work of heightened emotion. Likewise, the title in itself is revealing since indeed time is at the heart of Henry Jaglom’s emotional puzzle which will linger long after it’s over.

The most recent work from independent writer/director Henry Jaglom which is fittingly opening on Father's Day in limited release to tie in with its central theme of the complexities and lasting effects of father/daughter relationships reunites Jaglom with his beguiling muse-- the theatrically trained valedictorian from the University of Iowa, Ms. Tanna Frederick.

And although it will not mark their last collaboration as Frederick revealed to me in a recent interview that she's working with Jaglom on a "Margie" trilogy that will chronicle the ups-and-downs of her A Star is Born meets All About Eve ingenue from their previous partnership, with this film we realize that Tanna Frederick’s Hollywood Dreams continue to keep us captivated with her passionate and fearless turn in Time.

Similar to Margie, the titular character of Irene who is told she comes "from a long line of narcissists" is out of touch with reality. However, whereas Margie seemed extremely driven and willing to sacrifice everything for her Roxie Hart like ambition, Irene is still a fragile child utterly trapped (but intriguingly happy with her imprisonment since she can escape into the past) inside the body of a thoroughly confused adult.

While when the movie begins with a series of stories about her father from the friends of his she's adopted as family in a codependent need to be irrationally closer to the first man who'd loved her and the first one who'd left her, Irene is left with insatiable appetite to learn more about the father she considered magical who used to pull her out of school with various excuses and take her on adventures.

However, although there are a number of things abut Irene's father we do not understand, we do immediately realize that he made Irene the center of his universe. While on the one hand this let him escape from his true reality of gambling, impulsive action and deception, on the other it also left Irene with an unrealistic memory of her father whom she's held up as a hero via an imaginary measuring stick that no one can quite live up to much to the detriment of her relationships with the opposite sex.

Similar to a child making the acquaintance of a new friend-- for an aspiring singer working on her album, the twenty-something Irene avoids the Hollywood trappings of celebrity name-dropping by instead name-dropping her father and stories of him to anyone willing to listen for more than five seconds at a time.

And this is quickly ascertained over a series of failed dates and false starts to would-be relationships and Irene's decision to gamble her heart on men the way her father gambled on horses which is exacerbated by her over-reliance on self-help dating manuals which offer conflicting advice. Likewise despite Frederick's beaming smile and penchant for making us want to reach through the celluloid and protect her-- via Irene's extremes-- the film threatens to drown its great ideas and Jaglom's obsession with father/daughter dynamics and questions of love and time that tests the patience and good will of audience members.

To use one example, in a particularly abysmal date where Irene comes on far too strongly in trying to display an over-abundance of enthusiasm in the man's livelihood of building mini-malls-- he finally asks her, "what's wrong with you?" before leaving the restaurant with the citation that he's just uncomfortable. And sadly-- although we feel for Irene-- for a moment we wish we'd wandered outside the restaurant with him as we couldn't agree more and hoped that Frederick's character could have been a bit closer to Earth.

It's further evidenced particularly in the scenes Frederick shares with Jaglom's precocious children who offer Irene advice on romance and even a prediction that she will soon be lucky enough to be granted a wish. And in the precious two moments, we sense that emotionally she has more in common with the children (and in fact tragically we grasp that they're a few steps ahead of her) than she does with most women or men her age.

Thus ultimately we question Jaglom's direction of Frederick until he finally manages to plant the seeds in our brain that perhaps there's something else happening in Irene in Time than we realize, given the comments he writes in his directorial statement as shares that movies like Portrait of Jennie, A Guy Named Joe, Stairway to Heaven and Here Comes Mr. Jordan were used for inspiration.

And when you couple this question of love and time and emotional clues that are revealed when Irene discovers more information about her father along with the way her character seems to be reliving or playing out some similar situations that had occurred in the relationships of her father, her mother (Victoria Tennant) and a mysterious lounge singer (Andrea Marcovicci)-- the film suddenly takes on a different quality of magic realism and fate vs. destiny that can lead to various interpretations on what is reality and what is fantasy.

Again, like most of Jaglom's movies, Irene in Time is one that intentionally avoids the straightforward, crowd-pleasing structures of most summer fodder. Additionally, previous knowledge of Jaglom's style will infinitely help a viewer first tackling the work. And in the end I must admit to a strong aversion in places to the overly heightened characterization of Irene and my wish that Jaglom had granted Frederick the freedom to play someone a bit less neurotic to avoid "Margie" comparisons since this subject matter deserved a more delicate approach.

Still, viewing it with the magic realism idea in mind and with particular attention to the repetition in the past and present of Irene and the characters in her life nonetheless make the film a fascinating conversational piece that you may find stays with you much longer than the ninety-five minute running time.

Henry Jaglom