Imaginary Heroes Movie Review
The feature directing debut of Dan Harris, the scriptwriting wunderkind behind X2 and a batch of upcoming superhero flicks (from Superman to The Fantastic Four), Imaginary Heroes is a breathtakingly assured piece of work. Notable are the shimmering cinematography and unusually nuanced performances from both veteran actors we tend to take for granted and several fresh, younger faces. It starts off with Matt Travis (Kip Pardue), a high school swimming legend who always hated swimming and so shoots himself in the head one night. Although we only really see him in retrospect, talked about in narration by his younger brother, Matt (Emile Hirsch), it's quickly obvious that Matt was the shining star of the family and so everything quickly goes to pot in his absence. The dad (Jeff Daniels) collapses into an unshaven, sullen drunk, and the sister (Michelle Williams) dashes back to the safe haven of college. Matt - the film's closest thing to a protagonist - buries everything deep, hiding all emotions from his best friend Kyle (Ryan Donowho) and girlfriend, breaking up with her after she keeps asking how he's feeling and why his body is covered in bruises.
It's only the mother, Sandy (Sigourney Weaver), who seems to be acting any differently. Her sadness is a liberation of sorts. Although Harris is more interested in Matt's angst - the petty teenage indiscretions he gets mixed up in and those desperately hidden diary entries, all of it well-detailed, and from a writer who understands teens better than almost anyone else in Hollywood - Sandy is ultimately the more interesting subject and the film languishes without her in its later passages. Always an odd presence in the movies, Weaver really hits the mark on this one (unlike her role in the stillborn Ice Storm), as the mother who never seems quite comfortable in the role of nurturer (one wonderful scene has her sitting contemplatively on the backyard swing, smoking a blunt with one hand and a cigarette with the other), but whose hard-boiled honesty meshes perfectly with Matt's fish-out-of-water loneliness. There's an inner toughness to her performance that's hard to define but truly remarkable nonetheless - Sandy could take Ripley any day.
The Martha Stewart-perfect houses are here, as well as the affluent high school and desires to keep up appearances, but Harris fortunately doesn't go for easy satiric targets. But even with its refusal to march down the usual checklist of suburban ailments, Imaginary Heroes is a far from perfect film. A student of comic books, Harris puts too much faith in the sudden revelation of deeply-buried secrets (it doesn't help that these moments, particularly one especially heavy shoe that drops late in the film, are obvious to the audience long before they happen) and his overly adept plotting can make things a little corkscrewy at times. Also, it's one of those films where a character coughs a few times, and by the end of the film they're gasping for air in a hospital bed. But even though it might not have anything that stunning to say in the end, Imaginary Heroes goes about saying it in a way that's unusually bold and affecting.
DVD extras on this enchanting little film include two commentary tracks, deleted scenes, and a making-of featurette.
Now imagine this.
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