Some of the attraction/interest is in the direction, which features a lot of quick cuts, alternate shots, and metaphors.
But that would mean next to nothing if the movie itself stunk – if the characters were unbelievable and/or the script was stupid.
Fortunately, neither of those is the case.
The story is basically about loss and (mostly) addiction, and how four different people deal with these things. There’s the mother, her son, his girlfriend, and his best friend. The addictions are mostly drug-based, but one (and the most interesting one, to me, because of the character) is not. There are more than a few scenes that show this clearly as being portrayed as the equivalent of drug addiction, and while they’re not brilliant metaphors, neither are they weak hit-you-over-the-head cliches.
For me, the story of the mother is by far the most compelling. With the son, the girlfriend, and the best friend, you don’t know EXACTLY what’s coming, but you’ve seen this road before (‘Drugstore Cowboy’ for one, parts of ‘Traffic’, etc…). It’s an especially bleak and well-portrayed road in this movie, but to me it lacks the force of the mother’s story.
The mother’s story is also so compelling to me because Ellen Burstyn delivers the best performance of any of the actors, and her character is the only one of the four who truly doesn’t REALLY know that she’s getting into a dangerous spiral until it’s too late…all the others are in touch enough to realize the risks they’re taking, the danger they’re putting themselves in…at least to a certain extent.
In summation, the mother’s story – told as it is visually, acted as it is believably and emotionally – is the draw here. The three others aren’t bad, but none of them can match the power…the disturbing and moving sadness…of hers.
Good (and appropriate) music, too.
Near the end the cuts speed up and take over, and the entire movie takes on a completely hopeless air – musically, visually, and emotionally.
I found myself a bit drained by this, and disturbed…so if you don’t want either of those I wouldn’t recommend watching it. But to me, it was worth it for the very real emotional impact.
8/29/16: Never never never…throw chips at a driver. Grade: B
7/14/18: The Great Grade Update. Good, already updated. Grade: B