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The Safety Of Objects

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Safety Of Objects

Starring: Glenn Close, Dermot Mulroney
Director: Rose Troche
Rated: R
RunTime: 121 Minutes
Release Date: March 2003
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Joshua Jackson, Timothy Olyphant, Mary Kay Place, Robert Klein, Moira Kelly, Patricia Clarkson, Jessica Campbell

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Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

After seeing "American Beauty" three years back, my colleagues and I had a discussion over a Starbuck's about whether Sam Mendes' sophisticated look at the American Dream gone sour could be considered an indictment of suburbia. Where else would a woman be careful to weed her garden wearing gloves whose color complimented the lawn? Materialism itself was not really the question: the issue was whether living away from the glorious distractions of city life was responsibility for making a family self-absorbed and alienated from one another. Nobody really won that discussion, my opponents holding that the angst faced by Kevin Spacey's character could be experienced anywhere.

The same question lies at the heart of Rose Troche's exquisitely performed "The Safety of Objects," based on a composite of short stories by A.M. homes, the characters welded together after a year's work by Rose Troche, who serves as screenwriter as well. Favored by Geraldine Peroni's editing, "The Safety of Objects" is the story of three families who live side by side in a modest American suburb whose lives interweave during four days of crisis. These people are so pre-occupied you couldn't imagine their discussing President Bush's Middle East policy or domestic affairs particularly since their problems at home would not be ameliorated even had they received generous tax breaks. Though one of the women is having financial problems that deprive her daughter of summer camp, for the most part even she is simply house-poor, surrounded like her neighbors with the accouterments of the good life.

A character-driven piece, Troche's film introduces Paul Gold (Joshua Jackson), now in a coma resulting from a car accident, whose profound disability is but an extreme extension of the stupor those who play out their days about him. Esther Gold (Glenn Close), for example, takes on the sole responsibility of nursing her comatose son, all but ignored by her husband Howard (Robert Klein) as she, in turn, is forced to deny quality time to her daughter, Julie (Jessica Campbell). Neighbor Jim Train (Dermot Mulroney), a lawyer who has just been passed over for a promotion he felt certain to receive, all but freaks out, hanging out at the mall to the dismay of his wife Susan (Moira Kelly), while their son Jake (Alex House) takes must settle for consolation on conversations with a 12-inch doll. For her part Annette Jennings (Patricia Clarkson) is estranged from her husband whose skipped support payments make summer camp impossible for her androgynous kid, Sam (Kristen Stewart). At the next house over, Helen Christianson (Mary Kay Place) cannot see that her husband likes her just the way she is: vitamins and meditation serve as her desperate drive to reverse the aging process, nor is she above an attempted flirtation with a handyman.

There's nothing particularly new in the theme, but what gives the film its own resonance is the successful blending of the characters, indicating that maybe there is consolation to be found in suburbia where the neighbors know one another by name and where these people will wise up to realize that things are no substitute for other human beings. While the families move toward closure by the conclusion of these critical days, we suspect that they must ultimate depend for relief, however insubstantial, on their bevy of toys. "The Safety of Objects" is saved by terminal grimness by Troche's sense of humor, particularly in the role of Dermot Mulroney as the disappointed workaholic who at least temporarily becomes unhinged and shucks off his attachment to the workaday routine.

Copyright 2003 Harvey Karten

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