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The Safety of Objects


By Eric Allen Hatch | Posted

In The Safety of Objects, director Rose Troche's new belly flop of a drama, the clumsy pursuit of emotional realism results in an aggravating amalgam of hollow characters, muddled moods, and forays into self-parody. All this comes as a shame because the narrative framework here has potential and several performers clearly throw their hearts into the material. But when faced with two hours of flat dialogue, fuzzy character motivation, and mismatched performances, one has to blame the writer and director--both Troche, in this case--for letting rich material go to waste.

The Safety of Objects focuses on four families, within which each individual struggles with emotional problems, as well as the mundanity of the suburban consumer lifestyle. Fatally, Troche fails to make each family, let alone each character, equally interesting, even if each enjoys comparable screen time. Among the more sympathetic characters is Esther Gold (Glenn Close), who looks back on her life with regret, her own children--a disabled son and a resentful daughter--acting as living reminders of her shortcomings. Meanwhile, Jim Train (Dermot Mulroney) flips out after failing to gain a promotion at his law firm and, absurdly, alienates his family by becoming obsessed with a Hands on a Hardbody-esque contest in which Esther competes. Across town, likable gardener Randy (Timothy Olyphant) develops an unhealthy fixation on kids, though it isn't what you think.

These characters--and roughly a dozen other principals--are linked through narrative encounters, but also (in unsubtle stabs at visual poetry) through shared words, thoughts, and gestures. Furthermore, as the story (sorta) comes into focus, we find many of these people suffering from a shared tragedy. Atom Egoyan's masterful The Sweet Hereafter, therefore, becomes this film's most obvious point of reference, a comparison that only magnifies the falseness of Troche's film. For example, Olyphant's performance, when taken in isolation, nails his character's pain and inner conflicts, but no other character's interactions with him approach believability. All the actors flail around on their own, looking for guidance that doesn't come, right up to and including a painful groaner of a final scene.

Perhaps in the future, Troche, who made a deserved splash with 1994's lesbian-themed Go Fish, should re-enlist the screenwriting collaboration of Guinevere Turner. Sadly, here Turner contributes only the voice of an anatomically correct Barbie doll, a recurring diversion meant to be both cute and subversive. In Troche's hands, it's neither.

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