Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews
- Category: Jacqueline Monahan
- Published on 17 November 2008
- Written by Jacqueline Monahan
Las Vegas Round The Clock - http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
Duncan Shorter (Joshua Jackson) is, in the words of his brother, “a high school dropout, loser, mooch.” The two share a history that includes an absent, unreliable mother, and a prematurely deceased father (he was only 39). Jacob Shorter (Steven Pasquale) is Duncan’s successful but dubious older brother.
Jason is a married yuppie who brings his girlfriends over to Duncan’s apartment for secret trysts. He is the super achiever and Duncan is his polar opposite, the slacker of the family that everyone tries to motivate. Yet the unaccomplished Duncan seems more real, more able to be authentic than his lock-step brother with the clichéd status symbols (complete with icy wife and two suburban kids).
Duncan’s grandparents, Ruth (Louise Fletcher) and Ronald (Donald Sutherland) live on the sixth floor of a senior apartment building with a view of two skylines (Minneapolis and St, Paul). Ronald swears that he can see the northern lights each night. Also known as Aurora Borealis, these colorful dancing lights appear in the dark sky at certain times of the year. Native American folklore believes this to be the entry point to the land of the souls.
Just the thought of the lights comforts Ronald, whose arms twitch in uncontrollable spasms. He is suffering from Parkinson’s disease and slowly slipping into dementia - so slowly that he realizes it and is desperately clinging to an illusion of dignity. He has trouble eating, dressing walking, and urinating, hence his fervent, often-repeated wish for a single shell for his shotgun. He misses his son, David, Duncan’s father, and frequently gets the two confused. He is defiant yet terrified – remembering his brother Sterling’s descent into the clutches of the “A-bomb” – Alzheimer’s. He will not follow that path.
Duncan takes a job as a handyman in his grandparents’ building to be close to them and offer support to his grandfather. There he meets Kate (Juliette Lewis), Ronald’s caretaker. She becomes a lightening rod of new insights for Duncan, challenging his complacency and unwillingness to travel (ever).
A romance eventually develops as Kate announces to Duncan, one post-Thanksgiving dinner that, “It’s not even December and my nipples are so hard they could cut glass.” Sex immediately follows in a variety of settings: her place, his truck. This could be the start of Duncan’s new world, but he immediately wants everything else to stay the same. Meanwhile, Kate’s getting restless as her intermittent wanderlust begins to emerge.
Both Kate and Ronald want to leave Minneapolis (she to San Diego, he to the Great Beyond) which perplexes Duncan. Ronald approves of Kate and sees her as a life force for Duncan (a one-time contender for a full hockey scholarship). No one understands why Duncan checked out of his own life, and they always try to coax him back in, even his blue collar, borderline slacker pals. But Duncan is a quitter and doesn’t want to hear it, thank you very much.
Ruth is a comfort to both her husband and grandson. Even Ronald’s approaching dementia cannot dim his memories of being in love with her. Their relationship is poignant, a subtle reminder to live while you’re alive. It illustrates the absolute idealism with which some couples view each other. Age and infirmity can’t touch them.
Duncan is aware of Ronald’s growing anguish and tries his best to help out in whatever way he can. Additional stress comes from Kate’s impending departure. It’s all too much for someone not used to thinking, feeling or caring. He wants to lash out, and does.
There’s a fight, a split, a loss, a divorce, and shifts of all kinds before the story ends. Duncan needs a shakeup and he gets it, seeking out answers to his father’s death, trying to help his grandfather live despite his suicidal ruminations, taking a stand against his hypocrite brother, and letting go of Kate easily and disappointingly.
Director James Burke (In Dark Places) permits his characters to be understated and real. He doesn’t rely on contrived plot devices and allows facial expressions to have priority over any other type of visuals, even scenery. You can see what Kate, Ruth, Ronald and Duncan mean by looking into their eyes.
Writer Brent Boyd (The Green Room) offers believable dialogue that doesn’t descend into vulgarity or state the obvious. The result is a slice of life that rings true to the many nuances of family circumstance, self-discovery, and hearts that break for a variety of reasons.
Duncan’s journey is not full of special effects, does not depend on CGI, and does not include a wild chase scene or barroom brawl. Instead, he quietly evolves into a better man during one cold, winter in Minneapolis. Like the phenomenon known as Aurora Borealis, it occurs naturally and is a pleasure to watch.