Oren Rudavsky / NY, NY Narrative Feature
With a cast made up almost entirely of actors we really wish would work more, it’s hard not to have high expectations for Oren Rudavsky’s literate romance about a brokenhearted private-school English teacher (Chris Eigeman) falling for a well-heeled widow (Famke Janssen). Luckily, Rudavsky’s film, based on a novel by Daniel Menaker, is more rewarding than that simple plot logline would suggest. Eigeman, whose delicately aristocratic features made him Whit Stillman’s go-to-guy back in the day, turns out to be a genuinely compelling, and surprisingly nebbishy, romantic hero, and Janssen manages to be both supernaturally beautiful and touchingly human. And let’s not forget Ian Holm’s terrific turn as Eigeman’s old-school Freudian shrink—who may or may not be a figment of this highly educated loser’s imagination. The Treatment is not without its flaws—the adoption subplot that takes over the third act smells a bit too contrived—but its sterling cast makes it a real joy to watch.—B.E.
Richard E. Grant / Showcase
In the opening scene of Richard E. Grant’s Wah-Wah, 11-year-old Ralph (Zachary Fox) pretends to be asleep in the back of a car while his mother, Lauren (Miranda Richardson), makes love to his father’s best friend in the front seat. This unbearably primal moment, it turns out, is the ideal kickoff for Grant’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age tale set in Swaziland in southeast Africa in the late sixties: In many ways, Wah-Wah is a fairly typical tale of family dysfunction that becomes a lot more compelling when refracted through the prism of Ralph’s conflicted adolescent perspective. After the parents divorce, the boy’s alcoholic British diplomat father (Gabriel Byrne, giving his usual rumpled charm a jolt of vulnerability) marries an American flight attendant (Emily Watson), thus provoking the displeasure of the cliquish expatriate class in this remote land. True, this all sounds painfully earnest and soggy. But Grant’s cast does a terrific job with the material, especially when one realizes the emotional high-wire act going on here: These characters are all being remarkably brutal to one another, while harboring the secret fact that they still love each other very much. It’s the central paradox of many a divorce, and this is probably where Grant’s childhood experiences have served him so well. In particular, Nicholas Hoult, playing Ralph as a 14-year-old, perfectly conveys the inner rage of a child just coming to terms with the terrors of the adult world. As a story, Wah-Wah is far from perfect, but its wonderful cast brings it a complexity all too rare today.—B.E.
When I Came Home
Dan Lohaus / NY, NY Documentary Feature
Dan Lohaus’s documentary about returning veterans of the Iraq war is a case study in what’s wrong with current Iraq documentaries. Ironically, so many of these anti-big-media films seem to replicate the flaws of television news, substituting sound bites and telegenic subjects for rigorous analysis, history, and context. The military’s benefits programs and history are not clarified or explained in any detail, while not-so-random man-on-the-street interviews make drastic claims that may or may not be true. This country has a long history of mistreating veterans of its wars (we’ve hosted a few draft riots in this city), but you never hear about that in this generation of films (aside from vague Vietnam comparisons), while mediagenic personalities like the homeless veteran Herold Noel keep popping up repeatedly in documentary films like this one and the very similar Ground Truth, which just screened at Sundance. If our veterans deserve better care, they certainly deserve better films, too.—L.H.