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'Safety of Objects, The'

Angst overdone in 'Objects'

Friday, April 11, 2003

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Glenn Close is the mother of a comatose son in "The Safety of Objects."

'The Safety Of Objects'

RATING: R for sexual content and language.

STARRING: Glenn Close, Dermot Mulroney, Patricia Clarkson, Mary Kay Place.

DIRECTOR: Rose Troche.

WEB SITE: www.thesafetyof


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Joshua Jackson spends most of his time in "The Safety of Objects" playing a young man in a coma. The rest of the characters are merely sleepwalking through their lives.

Suburban dysfunction must be a horrible affliction. Thank goodness the worst cases of it appear only in movies.

Consider the contortions that the characters in "The Safety of Objects" put themselves through. Esther Gold (Glenn Close) spends most of her time lovingly caring for her comatose son Paul and emotionally ignoring her daughter Julie (Jessica Campbell). Esther tries to compensate by trying to win an SUV for her daughter in one of those contests where you must stand for days on end with your hands on the vehicle.

Neighbor Jim Train (Dermot Mulroney) goes to work one day and learns he's been named his firm's lawyer of the year. But someone else got the partnership he wanted, so he takes his ball and goes home. It's like he just woke up and found out life isn't fair.

Worse, it's like he just woke up and found out he has a family. The guy literally spends the entire movie in a daze, tripping over his loved ones like he doesn't know them and messing up everything he touches. Oh, and his son, Jake (Alex House), is in love with a Barbie doll. I mean, he has conversations with it, mostly regarding sexual fantasies. We hear it talking back. We see it moving its head and limbs by itself.

Then there's Helen Christianson (Mary Kay Place), who searches for fulfillment by distracting herself from what she really wants -- maybe not even so much sex as attention. She gets the latter from her husband primarily when dinner's late.

The one person whose desperation seems realistic is Annette Jennings (Patricia Clarkson), whose husband left her with their two kids for another woman. He isn't too quick with his child-support payments, which doesn't stop him from wanting to take his daughter Sam (Kristen Stewart) on vacation.

Then again, in flashbacks we see how Annette sought solace after the separation with Paul Gold, who might be half her age. Later, Sam disappears and Annette thinks her ex is responsible. We see what really happens but never understand why until the end of the film.

It all involves what happened to Paul, but by the time writer-director Rose Troche gets around to connecting the dots, it's all anticlimactic.

There are several points in the movie where she emphasizes how the characters are intertwined, either in her editing or by dissolving from one to another. Or else they all stop and seem to hear the same song in their heads. You wish she would let us in on it as well.

And yet Troche also emphasizes their separation from each other. We see most of them at one point or another closed up in a small room, and at the end the movie offers an aerial shot of the neighborhood with all the properties cut off by fences.

If only Troche realized the truth of the axiom that good fences make good neighbors. She adapted her screenplay from a book of short stories of A.M. Homes. In that collection, each of the tales is self-contained. There are no connections between the characters.

Yes, Homes writes about the young man in the coma and the boy who loves the Barbie doll and the lawyer who is his firm's man of the year. They may seem surreal, they may serve as indictments of the characters or even of the suburbia they inhabit. But Homes doesn't try to force them all together, to accumulate her characters into a web of unlikely coincidences and overweening eccentricity.

That impulse is the real malaise of overwrought movies about suburban angst.

Ron Weiskind can be reached at rweiskind@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.

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