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The Safety of Objects Review

By Shawn McKenzie 03/14/2003

It has been forever since I’ve seen director Rose Troche’s directorial debut, Go Fish, but I remember not being blown away by it.  Her second movie, Bedrooms and Hallways, never made it to theaters here, and I haven’t seen it yet since it has been on video.  Her third and latest movie, The Safety of Objects, a movie that has been in the can for two years, is much better than Go Fish, but it is not without its problems.

This is the story of four families.  First is the Gold family.  Esther (Glenn Close) is the mother who spends her whole existence taking care of her son, Paul (Joshua Jackson), who is in a coma as the result of a car accident.  Since she spends so much time and energy taking care of Paul that she has alienated herself from her husband Howard (Robert Klein) and their teenage daughter Julie (Jessica Campbell.)  She decides to enter a local radio contest to win a car for Julie, and hopes she will also win back her love.  Jim Train (Dermot Mulroney), the head of the second family, who has recently quit his job because he felt like he wasn’t getting any respect there, assists Esther’s exploit by being her contest coach.  Jim also doesn’t feel like his family needs him anymore either.  His well-organized wife, Susan (Moira Kelly), seems to be running everything just fine.  His son, Jake (Alex House), is distracted by his love for his younger sister Emily’s (Charly Chalom)  twelve-inch plastic doll, Tani (voiced by Guinevere Turner.)  The head of the third family, Helen Christianson (Mary Kay Place), feels older and less attractive, so she keeps trying new products to keep her feeling young.  Her husband, Wayne (C. David Johnson), loves her just the way she is, though Helen doesn’t seem to be attracted to him anymore.  Their oldest son, Bobby (Aaron Ashmore), a security guard at the mall where the radio contest is being held, was dating Julie Gold, but they are practically strangers now because of certain tragic events.  Bobby’s younger sister, Sally (Charlotte Arnold), is best friends with Sam Jennings (Kristen Stewart), the older tomboy daughter of Annette Jennings (Patricia Clarkson), the single head of the fourth family.  Annette is in the middle of a nasty divorce with her husband (Andrew Airlie) and is having a hard time raising her two children, Sam and Rayanne (Haylee Wanstall.)  Aside from dealing with the divorce, she is dealing with the guilt of her fling with Paul Gold.  The one character who isn’t a member of any of the families, but connects them all in a twisted way, is Randy (Timothy Olyphant), the neighborhood handyman.  He was a friend of Paul, he is lusted over by Helen, and he kidnaps Sam because she looks like his dead younger brother.  All of these families’ lives intertwine and affect each other in odd ways.

The first thing you will notice about this movie is that it takes a while to figure out who is a member of whose family.  The first ten to twenty minutes is littered with very fast cuts alternating between the four families.  I think this is to subliminally suggest that the actions of each family affect each other, but you don’t quite pick up on that until later after you figure out who the characters are.  Once you do make those distinctions, the second thing you realize is that it is very long.  This movie is one that you will have to give some patience.

With those few complaints said, let me get to what works in this movie.  First, I found out that this movie is based on a collection of short stories written by A.M. Homes called The Safety of Objects.  The essential theme of all the stories (I’m guessing...I haven’t read it) is that we find security in objects, like a new car or a plastic doll.  Troche, who also wrote the screenplay, was able to weave the individual stories into one story with skill.  The second thing is the acting.  Everyone involved in this movie did a great job, especially the women.  The men in this movie didn’t have as much to do, but it wasn’t focused on them (except Mulroney and Olyphant), and they were great when they were called up.  The acting is the biggest improvement over Go Fish.

Some people might be burned out on suburban dramas since American Beauty, but I personally like them if they are unique.  The Safety of Objects is a little cluttered and lengthy, but if you have patience, you might enjoy the film.


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