Beautiful Ohio Review
By Don Willmott
It's virtually impossible to watch Beautiful Ohio without films like The Ice Storm and The Squid and the Whale unspooling in your mind at the same time. That's not a criticism; it's a tip of the hat to first-time director (and actor and brother of Rob, and ex-husband of Hilary Swank) Chad Lowe, who takes an intelligent Ethan Canin script about a troubled family and gives it just enough early-'70s period piece touches to make it the equal of the aforementioned earlier films.
The Messerman family of suburban Ohio, circa 1973, is a little bit weird. Dad Simon (William Hurt) is a frustrated intellectual who earns a living as an insurance salesman but fancies himself as a great mind and is prone to speaking in brilliant quotations from geniuses of the past. His wife Judith (Rita Wilson) is just as enamored of her own intellect and has a deep love of classical music. Their older son Clive (David Call) is a supersmart math geek/long-haired hippie who breezes through statewide math competitions without even giving a damn. He's more into sparking up bongs in his bedroom with his luscious girlfriend Sandra (Michelle Trachtenberg) and his best friend Elliot (Hale Appleman), with whom he shares a secret language. Somewhat lost in the shuffle is the younger teenage son, William (Brett Davern), who is both amused and put off by his family's eccentric behavior.
As in The Ice Storm, each of the main characters has no shortage of pent up agita and rage just below the surface of his or her seemingly mundane life. Simon, especially, is drinking more and wrestling with existential disillusionment as he tries to remain hip and relevant by blasting terrible prog-rock records at cocktail parties. Judith feels estranged from both her sons, no surprise since Clive barely says a word and chooses to hide behind his long hair, while William is pretty much just scared of her. And William idolizes his older brother even while suffering through his constant razzing. And there are William's hormones, which are pointing straight at his brother's girl.
This is a domestic powder keg ready to explode, but when it does, things unfold in extremely surprising ways, reminding us once again that life is going to take strange twists and turns, and what matters most is your ability to hang on for the ride. All the performances are pitch perfect, even that of Hurt, who as we all know can sometimes come across as an overbaked ham. His Simon is a tortured man, but he keeps the emotions in check, and it works. Call, too, does exceptionally well in a role with almost no dialogue. It's all body language.
Clearly Lowe's many years as an actor has made him "an actor's director." (I'm reminded of Robert Redford and his memorable work on Ordinary People.) Here's hoping he gets the chance to do it again, even if he no longer has Hilary Swank to help with the funding.
You oughtta see Iowa.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Friday 10th November 2006
Production compaines: Accomplice Films
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Cast & Crew
Screenwriter: Ethan Canin