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WGUC Reviews

Away From Her

Away From Her
Lionsgate
Rated PG-13
Now Showing at: Mariemont Theatre.
Review by: Larry Thomas


Did you ever read about the subject matter of a film and automatically decide, "Oh, I don't want to see that." Generally, your instincts are probably right on the money. However, occasionally it might be a good idea to think twice.

The film is Away From Her and it's about a vibrant older woman dealing with the onset of Alzheimer's, and how she, and her husband, are going to deal with it.

Based on the short story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" by Alice Munro, Away From Her is a glowing, heartfelt film as written and directed by Canadian actress Sarah Polley. This brilliant young filmmaker has had roles in many films, most notably Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter, which won her several supporting actress awards. As she matured, writing and directing became the next logical step in her career, and she really shines with this production.

Julie Christie plays Fiona; married for 44 years to Grant, a college professor who's been retired for some time. Although Fiona is only in her mid-60s, the two of them recognize the onset of this dreaded condition. After much soul-searching, Fiona knows she needs to enter a private care facility, and does so, where Grant visits her every day.

You may think this is the end of their lives, but it's actually only the beginning. Once in the care facility, a multitude of life-changing events take place for both Grant and Fiona, as well as affecting those around them.

The performances are impeccable. Though Julie Christie's face is lined, it is never sad. You can still look at that face and know it's the face of someone who's enjoyed life to the fullest, and doesn't plan to stop because of a disease. Her performance is so good that it's unthinkable that she not be a front-runner for next year's Oscar.

Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent, not well known in this country, is perfect. He manages to convey a man who keeps many of his feelings hidden away, partly to submerge some of the troubles the marriage has gone through over the years, but yet still feels deeply. Both in his love for his wife, and in the guilt over events caused by his faults as a man.

Fine support comes from Oscar-winner Olympia Dukakis, and one-time Woody Allen crony Michael Murphy, whose small role with no dialogue, is genuinely heartbreaking.

The dialogue in Polley's screenplay is sharp and witty. It reveals much about the characters without resorting to obvious explanations. Jonathan Goldsmith's score is perfect in its blending of original themes with excerpts from Bach.

Alzheimer's is a fact for many people, although not something most of us want to face. Away From Her is a good first-step in exploring the effects of this disease on a loved one. A most appropriate coda is kd lang singing Neil Young's beautiful song "Helpless" over the closing credits. It's literally saying… helpless, perhaps, but not hopeless.

Away From Her is one of the most humane films to be released in years. It's now playing at the Mariemont Theatre.


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