A review of “The Safety of Objects” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: R for sexual situations, language

Run Time: 2 hours

 

 

Family dramas come in all different shapes and sizes.  Paul Thomas Anderson (“Magnolia”) and Todd Solondz (“Happiness”) take wicked pot-shots at suburbia by filling theirs with subversive humor and unseemly elements that scratch the underbelly of human nature.  Rose Troche (“Go Fish”) is basing hers on a collection of short stories (by A.M. Homes) that focus on intimacy and communication, or a distinct lack thereof.

Kidnapping, comas, masturbation, illicit affairs and doll-fetish.  It’s all in a day’s work for four neighboring families who struggle to survive the day-to-day quirks of suburban existence.  The melodrama unfolds in a subtle, backhanded fashion that screams sit up and take notice. 

Esther Gold (Glenn Close) is a grieving mom whose beloved musician son has suffered some sort of accidental tragedy. Next door neighbor Annette (Patricia Clarkson) may have been involved with the comatose youngster, but currently has her hands full with a learning-disabled daughter and a bitter ex-husband.

Down the street, Jim Train (Dermot Mulroney) has workaholicked himself into a tight corner, disassociating himself from his wife and pre-teen kids.  Jim walks away from his job after being passed over for an important partnership, and unexpectedly discovers that he must reacquaint himself with the unfamiliar routines of his life. (Not to mention his adolescent son, who has worked himself into a hormonal lather over his sister’s twelve-inch Tani doll). Neighborhood handyman Randy (Timothy Olyphant) is well acquainted with them all, albeit a little too intimately.  And Helen Christianson (Mary Kay Place) just wants to inject some rhythm into her schedule by getting into Randy’s pants.

The project’s message is crystal clear – this is the life you’ve made; don’t act like it’s not yours.  This unsettled quartet is doing what comes naturally - learning to deal and to cope with the obstacles thrown in their way, while frantically disassociating themselves with tangible realities.

Character-driven works such as “Safety” require a capable level of performance in order to convey the ordinary (and the extraordinary) in an absorbing manner. The spectacular talent (Close, Clarkson, Mulroney, Place and Moira Kelly) handles the challenge admirably, never over-stepping and consistently deducting rich tidbits to be left to the imagination. Silky-smooth editing forms a lucid narrative out of a studied mélange, subtly sidestepping the pitfalls of insufferable, six-degrees-of-separation perkiness.

Not my life, not yours, but lives worth living and looking in on.