Away from Her Review
By Shawn McKenzie 06/12/2007
Retired university professor Grant Andersson (Gordon Pinsent) and his wife Fiona (Julie Christie) have been married for over 44 years. They are a loving couple that likes to do things like cross-country skiing and hanging out with friends William (Thomas Hauff) and Phoebe Hart (Clare Coulter.) Unfortunately, Fiona realizes that she is going through the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, because her short-term memory has been failing on her. She forgets things like where a frying pan goes in the kitchen (she puts it in the freezer.) Though Grant wants to deny it, he helps her check into a residential care facility named Meadowlake. He thinks that they will be able to restore her memory and help her get back to normal. One thing he kind of hopes she won’t remember is the fact that he had an affair with a student named Veronica (Deanna Dezmari) back when he was still a professor. After being checked in and examined by Dr. Fischer (Alberta Watson), Grant is told by administrator Madeleine Montpellier (Wendy Crewson) that he can’t see Fiona for the first 30 days in order to let Fiona get adjusted to her surroundings. After the 30 days, Grant is devastated to see that she has deteriorated to the point where she doesn’t even recognize him. Even worse is the fact that she has apparently gotten close to a mute wheelchair-bound patient named Aubrey Barque (Michael Murphy)…but not necessarily in a sexual way. She just feels a need to take care of him. Grant keeps coming back every day and painfully watches his wife slip farther and farther away. The only person who he can talk to about this is head nurse Kristy (Kristen Thomson)…a woman who disagrees with the facility’s 30-day policy, and wonders with him if Fiona is deteriorating her own progress on purpose in order to get back at Grant for the affair. When he finds out that Aubrey is going to go home, he tracks down Aubrey’s wife Marian (Olympia Dukakis) and asks her to bring Aubrey back to Meadowlake…if only temporarily…so that Fiona won’t deteriorate even further. Ironically, Grant and Marian form their own bond together, but eventually, he will have to face the fact that he will have to live his life away from Fiona.
When I heard about the plotline of Away from Her, I figured that my girlfriend would be the perfect person to take to the movie. She just recently graduated from college with a B.A. in social work, and she specializes in the area of assisted living facilities. After seeing the movie, she was actually mad.
She said that there would never be a policy of not allowing a loved one from seeing a resident for 30 days. After doing some research, I found out that she was right. Canadian actress-turned-director Sarah Polley, who has worked with director (and the executive producer of this movie) Atom Egoyan as an actress in Egoyan’s 1994’s Exotica and 1997’s The Sweet Hereafter, makes her feature directorial debut with this film. Even she admitted in an interview with “Fresh Air’s” Terry Gross on NPR Radio that the policy is not typical of assisted living facilities. The movie is based on Canadian writer Alice Munro’s short story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” from the 2001 collection Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage. I was able to read parts of the story (or at least the parts that were relevant to the point that I am making), and it seems that Polley was just trying to accurately adapt the story, so that is why she included the plot point (Polley also wrote the screenplay.) So…if my girlfriend wants to be mad at anyone, it should be Munro. She may not agree with me, but I think that it’s the plot point drives most of the story. If Grant had been allowed to see Fiona from the beginning, then the movie would be a lot shorter.
My girlfriend did agree with me that the acting was excellent. Christie, with whom Polley acted with in 2001’s No Such Thing and 2005’s The Secret Life of Words, was very believable in the role. Even though her character was 70 years old in the short story, the 64-year-old (at the time of filming) Christie looked like a woman who might suffer from the disease. She still looked amazing though. Pinsent was very good as well. Polley has only sort-of worked with Pinsent in the past…when they were voice actors together in the 1989 animated feature Babar: The Movie (she was 9 years old at the time.) Even though Christie steals the show, the movie seems to be dominated by Pinsent. The always-great Dukakis gives a memorable performance as well.
The movie is a little slow, but the performances make Away from Her worth seeing. It is impressive that the 27-year-old (at the time of filming) Polley can make such a poignant film about a disease that she most likely won’t experience herself for another 40 years or so. The movie is much better than the crapfest that is 2004’s The Notebook in exploring the heartache of watching a loved one go through the disease. Polley was able to capture that heartache on celluloid. Who would have thought that the hottie from the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead could make a movie that might be award-worthy? My girlfriend may not have been crazy about it, but it touched me.
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