Winter Solstice

Nothing really happens in Winter Solstice, but that is exactly what writer/director Josh Sternfeld wanted, a quiet, character-driven drama. Much of what does happen is internal, and the characters are constantly wrestling with their emotions. Jim Winters (Anthony LaPaglia, Analyze That, The Guys) is a small business owner who lives with his two sons, Gabe (Aaron Stanford, Spartan, X2) and Pete (Mark Webber, Hollywood Ending, Storytelling). Winters lost his wife a few years ago (interestingly, while this is obvious, Sternfeld never confirms it until well into the movie) and never really recovered. Jim dove into his work, hoping that by keeping things the same, things would improve.

His sons feel differently. There is a huge amount of tension in the household, and Gabe and Pete react in different ways. Gabe, who works in a factory, wants to move to Florida. He needs to get away from everything, so he can start over. Pete shuts himself down emotionally. His performance in high school if falling, and all his teachers believe it's because he doesn't care. They know he is capable of doing better, but only if he wants to. Winter Solstice is also one of those films where something happens one summer that changes everything. Tensions have been simmering for years, and it was only a matter of time before they rose to the surface. One of the catalysts for this is Molly Ripkin (Allison Janney, How to Deal, Finding Nemo), a single woman who is housesitting in the neighborhood for the summer. Molly doesn't know anybody in the neighborhood, and invites Jim and his family to dinner. Gabe and Pete could care less, and fail to show up. Jim can understand the isolation that Molly is feeling, since he feels the same way.

While a tentative relationship/friendship between Molly and Jim begins, Gabe contemplates ending his relationship with his girlfriend (Michelle Monaghan, The Bourne Supremacy, It Runs in the Family) before he leaves for Florida. Jim goes ballistic when he learns of Gabe's plans to leave. He wants things to stay the way they are, not realizing that it is slowly killing his sons. As Jim and Gabe fight, Pete retreats further. Everything sounds very depressing, and it is for a while. It is also very human, and these are real emotions that the actors are portraying. LaPaglia in particular gives a powerful performance. Jim is a very sad person, although he will not admit it to himself. It's easy to see that things are eating him up on the inside, yet he fails to talk to anybody about. As a result, he will occasionally lash out as his sons, something he instantly regrets.

Everything here is a carefully constructed façade that is starting to break. The Winters' live in a nice home in a beautiful neighborhood, but their particular house is nearly devoid of emotion. And again, while not much is going happening on the surface, the characters are going through large changes internally. They are hurting, grieving, and realizing what they are doing wrong, and what they need to do in order to change for the better. Sternfeld handles everything carefully, ensuring that nobody goes over the top with histrionics, and that there are a few small humorous moments to lighten the tone. By the end of the film, they are different people, and the way they changed feels believable.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 33 minutes, Rated R for language.

Back to Movies