The Safety of Objects is a rather ambiguous title that offers very little information about its contents, a problem that runs rampant through this movie. There could be some huge, overarching symbolism in calling attention to the comfort we take in material goods (unless, of course, the title’s object in question is actually the catatonic body of Paul Gold around which the plot revolves). But that gives viewers zero credit for being aware of the ways the shallowness of American life allows us all to put our tragedies out of sight.
Objects has a seemingly bottomless supply of suburban heartbreak, carefully doled out among four families with little to hide and nothing to lose. Esther Gold (Glenn Close) spends her days caring for her car-wrecked son, Paul (Joshua Jackson), while her daughter, Julie (Jessica Campbell), sits by with guilty secrets of her own. Jim Train (Dermot Mulroney) walks out on his job when a colleague gets the promotion he feels should have been his. Helen Christianson (Mary Kay Place) is trapped in a cult of healthy living of her own making. Annette Jennings (Patricia Clarkson) deals with her obnoxious ex-husband and the disappearance of her daughter, Sam (Kristin Stewart), who has been borrowed by a fast-disintegrating Randy (Timothy Olyphant).
All paths lead back to who Paul was and how he got the way he is, a plot device that tritely connects the movie’s muddle of separate stories. The Safety of Objects has ambitions of endowing the chink in the dam that brings on the flood with more meaning than it deserves. Paul is the only character who ever actually seems alive. This makes sense, given the fugue state of the family and friends he’s left behind, but it doesn’t add up to the meaningful adaptation of A.M. Homes’ collection of short stories that director Rose Troche is aiming at.
Life is repetitive, and these feelings of sorrow and stalling are everywhere, but Objects doesn’t have anything new to say, or a new way of saying it. It doesn’t help that the film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival … in 2001. There’s a stale quality to it, like it might once have had a power long since dissipated.
A note on Close, whose career in the past few years has amounted to several very good performances overshadowed by Cruella De Vil and an embarrassing appearance with Donald Sutherland as out-to-commercial announcer at the Oscars. She is, as almost always, better than what she’s given to work with. Don’t give up on her yet.
Opens Friday exclusively at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-542-0180.
Erin Podolsky writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].