Film Reviews: Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Winter Solstice
Starring Anthony LaPaglia, Mark Webber, and Aaron Stanford. Written and directed by Josh Sternfeld. Rated PG-13.
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Ice Princes

If you feel a certain chill during Winter Solstice, you’re not alone.

By KRISTIAN LIN

Some movies make you feel like you’ve just scarfed down an entire bag of marshmallows or a package of processed cheese. Winter Solstice made me feel like I’d just eaten my way through a big, heaping plate of bean sprouts. That is to say, I felt virtuous yet unfulfilled, which isn’t a feeling I go to the movies for, and I suspect neither do most moviegoers.
The film is not based on Rosamunde Pilcher’s novel of the same name. Rather, this low-budget drama from first-time writer-director Josh Sternfeld is yet another tasteful exploration of a repressed white suburban family spending all their time in activities that’ll make it easy for them to avoid the subject of their quiet desperation. The template for these movies has been set in stone for at least a quarter of a century, since the release of Robert Redford’s Ordinary People, and this one adds nothing to the genre.
Anthony LaPaglia plays Jim Winters, a landscaper who’s been an emotional dead zone ever since his wife’s death in a car accident five years ago. His older son Gabe (Aaron Stanford) wants nothing so much as to get out of their small New Jersey town, where the hottest nightspot is the Dairy Queen parking lot. Meanwhile, younger son Pete (Mark Webber), who was partially deafened by the accident that killed his mother, is having trouble finishing high school.
Unquestionably, the best thing here is the cast. LaPaglia, who’s usually so urbane and decisive, especially starring in tv’s Without a Trace, is fully credible here as a shlub trying to hold his family together while keeping up his guard. Michelle Monaghan (looking like a kid sister to Liv Tyler) is luminous as Gabe’s girlfriend, and the always-welcome Allison Janney is even more so as a housesitter who moves in down the block from Jim and gradually coaxes him out of his shell. Ron Livingston contributes a couple of good scenes as a summer-school history teacher who deals with Pete’s passive-aggressive tendencies by being passive-aggressive right back at him.
Yet these actors can’t keep the scenes from running together in the viewer’s mind, with family members talking past one another and not resolving anything. The movie is monochromatic, visually and emotionally. The outbursts in a film like this should shake us, not necessarily through histrionics but through depth of feeling. There’s nothing like that here, nor is there much in the way of humor except for a conversation between Pete and Gabe over the breading on a cutlet. Such light moments are too hard to come by. The film has been praised in some quarters as deeply insightful about how men interact with each other, but Sideways is even more incisive on that subject, without forcing you to deal with mind-numbing tedium. Winter Solstice tries to capture the aimlessness and grayness of its characters’ lives and succeeds only too well.


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