Sunday, March 30, 2008

Lost Angels

Snow Angels, David Gordon Green’s mournful adaptation of Stewart O’Nan’s 1995 novel has the disadvantage of most literary adaptations: translating a 305-page novel into a movie means sacrificing depth, shading and characterization.

The story concerns two unraveling families in a small town in Pennsylvania, that of teenager Arthur Parkinson, whose parents are breaking up, and his former babysitter, Annie Marchand (Kate Beckinsale), who is separated from husband Glenn (Sam Rockwell) and raising their little daughter. Annie, once the object of Arthur’s childhood crush, waits tables in the restaurant where Arthur has a part-time job and is having an affair with Nate (Nicky Katt), husband of Annie’s friend and co-worker Barb (Amy Sedaris). An aura of menace surrounds Glenn, who tried to commit suicide after the marriage failed, and is now a born-again Christian making a shaky recovery and nursing hopes of reconciling with Annie.

Arthur, who plays trombone in the school marching band, develops a relationship with Lila (Olivia Thirlby), a new girl in town who wears kooky vintage cat-eye glasses. When Annie’s daughter goes missing, Arthur and his classmates are sent to search the snowy hills, and Arthur makes a terrible discovery.

Green directs with a sure hand and a keen eye for working-class settings, and gets excellent performances from the actors, especially Rockwell as the emotionally fragile Glenn. He is less successful, however, at connecting the two stories: Arthur’s pedestrian coming-of-age tale belongs in another movie altogether from Annie’s dark, working-class melodrama. Truncating the book means that the characters are sketchy and their motivations murky. The horrifying violence that climaxes the film shocks on a basic level, but doesn’t move you emotionally. Other elements of the novel are absent, such as the characters' alcoholism and poverty, and the snow angel symbolism from which the title comes. Also missing is the novel’s poetic grace that gave the story a larger meaning.

Originally published in the Cleveland Free Times.

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