Saturday, July 13, 2013

Movie Review: Snowmen

Now that I'm going to a grad school with a faculty of legitimate film industry players, I thought I could write a series of reviews on their work.  It's a little awkward critiquing the work of people I actually know, but I'm sure they either won't read this or won't take it personally.  You go into their movie really wanting to like it, but also desiring to be objective.  Hopefully, I'll make some more connections and be afforded this situation more often.  This brings me to Rob Kirbyson's film, Snowmen.  For me, Snowmen was a mixed bag.  The story centers around a ten year old boy who lives in some snowy clime, is about to die from cancer, and with the help of his two friends, one of whom is a new neighbor from Jamaica, he attempts to do something big that will give him a legacy.  In this case, that means setting a Guinness World Record for most snow men built in 24 hours.  The movie touches on themes not often found in kid movies, which is a huge plus.  The characters were likeable and mostly well done and some of the performances were fantastic.  The visual style was wonderful.  My only complaint, and it's no small one is that the writing was patchy.  All in all, Snowmen is a great movie to show your kids, but a so-so outing for adults.

I think it's important for children's movies not to shy away from the serious stuff, including death.  Narrative movies are a great pedagogical tool and many kids will be forced to deal with these issues at some point regardless of whether or not their parents attempt to shield them.  There are many children's books about death, not because the authors are morbid or cruel, but because children need help in coping with the relatively inevitable.  The main character, Billy Kirkfield, is going to die of cancer.  The movie leaves that hanging over everything.  In fact, in the opening, he tells us through voice-over that this is the year he died.  The movie also opens with the three main characters, all of them young boys, finding a corpse.  He and his friends are also picked on by bullies at school, one in particular, and he has to deal with people's paranoia over his disease, and in many cases, misplaced childhood cruelty.  The last major theme is Billy's desire to do something of import before he dies.  These themes lead to two particularly memorable scenes.  The one involves the three boys discussing the afterlife.  Movies are usually designed to distract us from these sort of existential questions so to see these boys, in an albeit innocent way, discussing what comes next was very moving.  Another scene was the cameo by Christopher Lloyd, which screamed cameo as he was nowhere else in the movie.  He really gave the character gravitas, though.  He tells the kids it's not so much what you do so much as how you do it.  This is one of my favorite statements of theme in any movie ever.  The central struggle and it's resolution remind of the movie It's a Wonderful Life.  The main character is sort of a younger George Bailey looking back on his life, wishing he had done bigger things and imbued with that same sense of misplaced values that cause him to overlook what really counts.

Now I'd like to look at some of the characters in the movie.  The best performance, I suppose as should be expected is Ray Liotta as Reggie Kirkfield, the father of Billy, the main character.  He brings much humor to the zany, used car salesman side of his role, but also a genuineness and a poignancy to the serious parts.  As often is the case, the comedy amplifies the drama.  Doug E. Doug once again plays a Jamaican man acclimating to a cold environment.  He's very believable.  For whatever reason, Reggie's wife Elaine barely gets to speak.  The kid performances are okay by child actor standards.  As a character, I found Billy's friend Lucas to be interesting, not necessarily because of performance, but primarily because everyone thinks he's a coward, but he's really just not a fighter and of course, young children, especially boys, can't tell the difference.  When his friend is up against it, he proves to be the bravest hero of all.  I like the way the "love-interest" was treated.  They didn't feel the need to make me throw up with pre-teen kissing, but they played it cute, innocent, and subtle, the way relationships at that age are meant to be.  The bully, in my opinion, gets way too much sympathy and is too cruel.  When the other kids talk about him, they sound like mature, politically-correct adults.  Can we please just have a kid's movie where the bully receives a hearty punishment from adults or an ass-whooping from his peers?  I must have missed the point.  I suppose at that age, you still may have the sad, mean to everyone, pitiable, loner bully, but in my experience bullies are more the Eddie Haskell-types who know how to play the game with adults and other select people.  Christopher Lloyd's character, the caretaker at the cemetery is great, but I would have liked to see him more than once because the singular appearance, as I already mentioned, screams cameo.

Now onto the writing, which was patchy.  Some of the scenes, such as Christopher Lloyd's, scene are elevating.  Some of the kid's dialogue elsewhere feels hokey, though.  As I already mentioned, the kids are a little too "enlightened" about the school bully.

Lastly, I loved the visual aesthetic of the movie.  Winter clothes can be so much fun and all the bright, colorful outfits against a pretty, hard-white backdrop were a visual feast, almost slightly reminiscent of a great technicolor movie.  I don't know why awesome, strong color contrasts are rarely a feature of modern cinematography.

All in all, Snow Men is watchable, a decent movie, could easily move others more than it did me, and deals with very necessary themes.

No comments:

Post a Comment