Writer-director Brad Siberling, previously responsible for City of Angels (1998), the abysmal remake of Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, has all the dismaying instincts of a solidly mainstream talent. And though the inspiration for his latest movie was the murder of his actress girlfriend, Rebecca Schaeffer, his trauma, once filtered through his conventional imagination, emerges here as an old-fashioned piece of Hollywood uplift. It’s not that it’s particularly bad, but rather that it’s good in ways that are mildly pleasing, which is not something that you would expect, given its harrowing origin.
The bereaved boyfriend here is Joe Nast (played by the ubiquitous Jake Gyllenhaal), whose fiancee Diana was murdered, an innocent bystander in a diner shootout. After the funeral, Joe stays at the home of Diana’s parents, Ben (Dustin Hoffman) and JoJo (Susan Sarandon). They see him as a link to their dead daughter and treat like him a son, unaware of his guilty secret, which is that he and Diana’s relationship was all but officially over before she died. Joe can’t seem to find the right moment to explain this to the couple, being sensitive to their temporary need for a surrogate offspring. The more time that passes, the more painful the ultimate revelation will be. Complicating things further is Joe’s growing relationship with a local postal worker named Bertie (Ellen Pompeo), outwardly spunky but with as much emotional baggage as everyone else in the film.
Unlike a movie whose premise it superficially echoes, In The Bedroom, this one has no bite, just a lot of cozy observations about the human comedy. Hoffman and Sarandon are excellent in their depictions of two different manifestations of grieving: he all fussy and distracted, she bristling at the inadequate offerings of various would-be comforters. And while Gyllenhaal is cornering the market on sensitive young men (which is fine), Pompeo should learn how to dial down the cute factor. Even in Siberling’s world of abiding optimism, she’s a bit much.
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].