Rebecca Miller's lyrical examination of the '60s counterculture's legacy of utopian hopes and dashed dreams is refracted through the relationship between a dying father and his teenage daughter.
1986: On a small island somewhere off the Eastern seaboard where a 60-person commune once thrived, only die-hard idealist Jack Slavin (Daniel Day-Lewis, Miller's husband) and his daughter, Rose (Camilla Belle), remain, living a self-sustaining existence in an organic house set on a hill. Their insular, self-sufficient paradise is under siege from within and without: Local developer Marty Rance (Beau Bridges) is building a development of ticky-tacky houses on a tract that abuts their property; Jack's health is rapidly declining and the sheltered Rose is blossoming into a young woman whose nascent desires verge on the incestuous. Jack impulsively invites his sometime girlfriend Kathleen (Catherine Keener) to move from the mainland to the island with her teenage sons — pudgy, sardonic Rodney (Ryan McDonald) and predatory, sleepy-eyed Thaddius (Paul Dano) — but their arrival only makes things worse. Rose is furious at being forced to share her father's affections, while Jack and Kathleen cannot contain the explosive energies unleashed by the combination of her pop culture-immersed boys and his angry, socially ignorant daughter. The situation can only resolve itself in disaster, and it does.
Miller's greatest strength is her ability and willingness to write deeply flawed and complex characters whose contradictory and often infuriating behavior neither illustrates pat moral lessons nor lends itself to easy resolution, and then giving her actors the freedom to inhabit them fully. Jack, Rose, Kathleen and, to a lesser degree, Rodney, are fully realized individuals who willfully stir up their own troubles and react convincingly when they blow up in their faces. Keener and Day-Lewis are at the top of their form, and Belle's feral delicacy is beautifully used. But what begins as a tightly focused character study becomes a rambling wreck, overloaded with symbolic flourishes that detract from rather than enhance the stripped-down lesson that idealism, selfishness, snobbery and fanaticism are closely intertwined. By the time it reaches its fiery finale, the film feels less mythic than self-consciously portentous.
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- Released: 2005
- Rating: R
- Review: Rebecca Miller's lyrical examination of the '60s counterculture's legacy of utopian hopes and dashed dreams is refracted through the relationship between a dying father and his teenage daughter. 1986: On a small island somewhere off the Eastern seaboard… (more)