I managed to catch Away From Her as it began it’s pre-awards rounds this week. (These things seem to go in curious streaks, don’t they? There was an ad for a documentary about a young guy who checks into an old folks home to see how they live.)
I had put off seeing this previously because I had been scarred by The Notebook a few years earlier. (I’ll probably do a review of that film later on, because it ranks as one of the three worst films I’ve seen in a decade, and a good example of how you can love everyone involved in the making of a movie and hate the movie itself. But I digress.)
The incredibly talented Sarah Polley wrote for the screen and directed this film. Polley, first known to me as the little girl in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, has emerged as an adult with a formidable acting–and now writing and directing–talent.
Grant Anderson (played by Gordon Pinsent of Saint Ralph and The Good Shepherd) is married to Fiona (played by the still radiant Julie Christie) who has Alzheimer’s. She forces him to put her in a home where, after an enforced 30-day absence, he returns to find she has fallen in love with another man, and regards him as a troubling confusion.
The movie reveals, in bits and pieces, their history together, the progression of her disease, the relaationship of her beau with his wife, Marian (Olympia Dukakis), and ultimately the relationship that Grant forms with Marian. It succeeds in making us care, while not hesitating to show the warts of the various characters.
Ultimately, I found it to be upbeat, as there is honesty and love on display, with difficult choices being made.
Julie Christie–who at 66, is often pointed out as being “young” to have Alzheimer’s so severely–actually makes a particularly poignant victim. With a little acting judo, she turns her youthful looks into tragedy. I found her more appealing in this film than in Heaven Can Wait or any of the other flicks she did in the ‘60s and ’70s.
But she’s not shouldering the burden alone: Even Michael Murphy, who plays the non-verbal Aubrey, object of Fiona’s newfound affections does a smashing job conveying an age which (one can only presume) none of these remarkably well-preserved old folks actually feel. (At least not to the oppressive degrees their characters do.)
The music, as I noticed it, was an excellent mix of classical (I noticed Bach’s cantate no. 147) played in a jazz guitar style.
The whole thing was so good, and so polished, the director’s insertion of a political statement stands out like a sore thumb. It’s brief, fortunately, but it’s the archetype of how “messages” can ruin films, it’s so out of character with the rest of the movie.