Imaginary Heroes – written and directed by Dan Harris, Starring – Sigourney Weaver, Jeff Daniels, Emile Hirsch, Kip Pardue, Michelle Williams
Once again we enter the territory mined by the novels of John Updike, and movies like The Ice Age and American Beauty. As we wander through the landscape of upper middle class America, we find yet once again, while they may be glossier than most of us, they may have more accessories and money, once you scratch the surface, they are just as confused, depressed, name your own emotion/adjective as the rest of the planet.
This time around, we visit the Travis family; they inhabit an unnamed quasi-posh neighborhood in New Jersey. Sandy (Sigourney Weaver) and Ben (Jeff Daniels) have the requisite three kids – Matt (Kip Pardue) who’s swimming his way to the Olympics, eldest daughter Penny (Michelle Williams) a smart and pretty college co-ed, and teenage Tim (Emile Hirsch) a popular and smart high school senior. When tragedy befalls the family, we watch how they cope and survive it during a year filled with pathos, absurdities and laughter.
While the plot is something we have all seen before, it’s beautifully textured, and contains snappy and insightful dialogue. New Yorkers will delight in a cameo by underground darlings Kiki and Herb. Many, me included with have parent envy; Sigourney Weaver is àƒÆ’à†’àƒâ€šà‚¼ber Mom. Funny, compassionate and all knowing. Emile Hirsch, who has been seen lately in The Girl Next Door and The Emperor’s Club, is Tim Travis. His portrayal is seamless; he doesn’t act as much as become the part.
While the main characters of Sandy, Ben and Tim are well-drawn out, other characters seem lost in the periphery or are stock characters without any depth. It isn’t until half-way through the film that we find out anything at all about Penny, and of course Tim’s best friend is a stoner.
The other flaws to this film are a scene or two that are used only to illustrate a character’s flaws rather than to move the story along. Speaking of plot, at one point the movie almost derails into a Lifetime Movie Channel movie, but is pulled back from the brink.
I’m not saying that this is a bad or bathetic movie; it isn’t, it just needed a bit of judicious editing. It’s wry, sensitive and while sometimes bowing to conventions, it really is a smart and clever story.
Imaginary Heroes will alas, be playing for one week only at the Angelika Film Center in New York and the Sunset 5 in Los Angeles starting on December 17. The movie will re-open in New York and Los Angeles and nationally in mid-February 2005. Don’t wait be ahead of the curve. While a tad flawed, this is still a gem of a movie.