Itís been 25 years since Ordinary People notified the moviegoing public that rich white people have problems, too. And for the first two-thirds of Imaginary Heroes, director/screenwriter Dan Harris seems prepared to finally skewer the particular brand of suburban angst that has been in cinematic fashion ever since, serving Anglos notice that itís too bad if they drink too much, their marriages collapse, or their kids kill themselves, it really is, but if youíre just now finding out that life is hard, you were long overdue.
Sandy Travis (Sigourney Weaver) seems to suspect that a lesson like this is coming. Sheís a spunky would-be soccer mom, if only her mopey, mop-topped teenage son Tim (Emile Hirsch) played soccer, or did anything besides scribble in his notebook and hide from the local bully (Luke Robertson, dolled up oddly in í80s punk gear, as if having shown up for a John Hughes casting call 20 years too late). Sandyís smarmy daughter (Michelle Williams) is away at college and stays away; she and her sullen husband (Jeff Daniels, putting that weak chin to good effect) donít like each other; and no one talks about any of this until the familyís handsome, athletic eldest son (Kip Pardue) puts a bullet through his brain.
Thereís a bit of the usual white-bread sublimation of pain at firstóthe parents stop talking, Dad starts skipping work and spending his days in the parkóbut most of what follows is a refreshing session of Getting Over It. While friends and neighbors step gingerly around them, Sandy and Tim grow less and less cautious with their own lives, in turn cementing what was from the start a palpable bond between mother and son. He goes on Ecstasy binges and tries to score off his pert girlfriend (Suzanne Santo); she flirts with grocery clerks and smokes pot on the front lawn. And just when the two are on the brink of learning the purifying empowerment of grief, their story throttles back.
As if shuffling over to an alternate ending, Intimate Heroes suddenly forces its otherwise fleshy characters to reach cartoonish conclusions. Relationships are patched up, even though theyíve already proved fruitless. Subplots go untended. And the second-reel revelation of a secret that mother and son share emerges not like a dagger to drive the point home but more like a diaper pin to bind everything up. Excellent performances by Weaver and Hirsch come to seem squandered, and in the end the promise of Harrisí project goes unfulfilled. Come back, Robert Redford. All is forgiven.