Imaginary Heroes

The suicide of Matt Travis (Kip Pardue, Thirteen, The Rules of Attraction) sends the Travis family reeling into all sorts of dysfunction in Imaginary Heroes from writer/director Dan Harris. While there is some good acting in the film, Harris (The Killing of Candace Klein, The Unbreakable Likeness of Lincoln) milks the effects of the tragedy a bit too far with the family members, resulting in sexual reawakenings, the rediscovery of drugs, and not one, but two additional trips to the hospital. Harris drags the story in the middle and tries to squeeze in a few too many issues, thus weakening the central premise of a family crumbling apart at the seams.

Relations between everybody are already strained, although Harris doesn't reveal why until the very end. Matt's death exacerbates things, because everybody grieves separately, driving themselves further apart. Father Ben (Jeff Daniels, Because of Winn-Dixie, The Hours) internalizes everything. He is in a daze for most of the time, and forces his wife Sandy (Sigourney Weaver, The Village, Holes) to cook a meal for Matt every night. Sandy is affected most, and is left emotionally reeling. She starts experimenting with marijuana, and noticing other men. Matt's brother Tim (Emile Hirsch, The Girl Next Door, The Mudge Boy) acts out more at school, and his sister Penny (Michelle Williams, The Station Agent, The United States of Leland), already away most of the year at college, stays as distant as ever.

Harris tries to blend in genuine emotion with some bleak humor, and the meshing of the two does not work as well as he envisioned. Instead, it gives Imaginary Heroes a schizophrenic feel, as if the film never figures out what kind of film it wants to be. Nevertheless, all of the (contrived) situations do allow for some very good performances, primarily from Weaver and Hirsch. Hirsch is one of the few young actors today who can convey the wildly mixed emotions of adolescence. His character's emotional arcs go all over the place; he's never quite sad, but he is often lonely, confused, angry, and bitter. Tim is dealing with a lot, and instead of expressing his feelings to his parents (both of whom are emotionally distant), he embarks on things that sometimes border on reckless. Weaver gets to let loose a little more. There is clearly little love between Sandy and Ben. And since Ben is not there, either for Sandy or for Tim, Sandy reaches out for whoever or whatever will be there to comfort her, be it a younger man or pot. Ben is another quiet role for Daniels, who tempers with sadness he had in Because of Winn-Dixie with a sense of anger here. Daniels is actually really good in these smaller quieter roles, because he effectively portrays people who refuse to let their emotions surface. It's too bad that the script was not on par with the acting.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 52 minutes, Rated R for substance abuse, sexual content, language, and some violence.

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