Film review by: Witney Seibold
David Gordon Green is a lyric poet working in the medium of cinema. He has the knack of natural quiet kitchen-sink human suffering and miscommunication of John Cassavetes, but without the shrillness. He is a neo-realist who works outside of the snotty circles of faux-artistes, and artistic know-it-alls. He has already made some modern classics like “George Washington” (2000), “All the Real Girls” (2003), and “Undertow” (2004). This yea, he even proved he could elevate stupid studio fare with “Pineapple Express.” His “Snow Angels” is one of the best of the year. Keep an eye on Green, and watch his films. He may turn out to be one of the more important filmmakers of the decade, if not of his generation.
“Snow Angels” is about a group of deeply wounded people:
Glenn (Sam Rockwell) is a basket case. He’s a recovering addict who has lost his wife and daughter in a messy divorce. He clings onto the platitudes of the church as his salvation, and is trying hard to stay out of a whiskey bottle. He prays regularly, as he knows it’s something he should do, but doesn’t seem to notice how unconvincing he sounds. He just got a new job at a carpet warehouse, and struggles even with that. He will want to take good care of his daughter, but seems lost as to what to do. He will eventually begin committing crimes and lose control of his life.
Annie (Kate Beckinsale) is a basket case. She divorced Glenn, but is barely making ends meet with her waitressing job at a local Chinese restaurant. Her 5-year-old daughter Tara (Gracie Hudson) is a cheerful girl, but seems to act as an impediment in Annie’s life, rather than a blessing. What’s more, Annie is having an affair with a sleazy letch (Nicky Katt) who happens to be married to her co-worker Barb (Amy Sedaris, surprisingly, playing it perfectly straight). Annie will eventually make some horrible mistakes, and lose control of her life.
Arthur (Michael Angarano) is only 16, and was once babysat by Annie. He plays the tuba in his school’s marching band. He is very much at risk. His parents just separated, and his dad (Griffin Dunne) doesn’t seem to open about why. He smokes weed, and may not know how to advance his relationship with a classmate (Olivia Thirlby). He also is witness to a horrible accident that threatens to undo him.
“Snow Angels” takes place in a world where shouting an empty “I love you” out the door as you leave has replaced real caring, tawdry affairs have replaced real closeness, selfishness has replaced openness, and tragedy seems less like an interruption of normal affairs, and more like the inevitable punctuation. It is a sad, sad world. Many of the people do not know how to cope with their lives or their own overpowering mediocrity, and aren’t even aware of the choice to rise above. And they’re all frighteningly familiar.
Is this a film without hope? Luckily, no. Arthur, “Snow Angels” seems to state, could easily become just like Glenn. He could easily have a meaningless relationship, produce a child, turn to drink and dead-end jobs, all because of some teen angst and small-town boredom. Luckily his saintly mother (Jeanetta Arnette) has a single line of dialogue about halfway through the film that is probably the best possible thing she could have said to him at that moment. You’ll know the line when you hear it. He has the courage to confront his father about his meaningless dalliances. And, most redeeming, the love of the Thirlby character just may be the thing that elevates him into being a real human being.
It’s rare that the tender moment in a film involves wearing a big goofy helmet, your girlfriend’s ill-fitting glasses, and performing cunnilingus. But “Snow Angels” turns a potentially silly and campy moment into once of emotional comfort rarely seen in American film.
Am I one of those critics that has mistaken “heavy” and “depressing” with “complex” and “important?” No, I am not. I like to think I am one who can recognize a thing of beauty when I see it. “Snow Angels” is bleak, wrenching, emotionally harrowing, and a thing of hope and beauty.