Saturday, March 22, 2014

Review of STRAIGHT As: Understated and Involving

March 22, 2014

The title alone will not suggest anything about the film. It was good that I watched this film without any idea what this was all about, not even what genre it was. I thought it was a romantic comedy. It was not exactly one. When the film started, I thought I would not like it. But as it went along, I was pulled in, all the way to its end. This is one good little film that deserves more attention.

Simply put, the story of "Straight As" is about how the lives of the Henderson family were affected by the surprise return of long-estranged Scott (Ryan Philippe). He came back supposedly because the ghost of their late mother had convinced him to make amends with his family. Scott's ex-girlfriend, now sister-in-law Katherine (Anna Paquin) is very flustered by his unwelcome visit, because it happens just as his brother (and her husband) William (Luke Wilson) was out of town on business. 

Scott manages to charm his way into favor of his nephew Charles and niece Gracie because his easy-going ways contrast with those of their uptight parents. However, with his rough manners, foul language, cigarettes, booze and pain-killers, will Scott ever be welcomed back by the family he left more than ten years ago?

The actors of this film worked very well. I loved that the acting in this film is very understated and restrained. There were no big hyper- dramatic scenes as family melodrama are mostly prone to having. 

I have not seen Ryan Philippe act in a lead role for a long time. His film career had never really recovered since he and Reese Witherspoon broke up. He was outside his usual zone playing the black sheep of the family. I believed he played the multiple levels of his complex damaged character very well, bringing out the innate good heart of his bad boy character.

I realized that I had not seen Anna Paquin act in a straight dramatic role ever since she won the Oscar as a precocious child in "The Piano"! It was a welcome break from notable recent roles with supernatural powers. I liked her subtle attack on a role which could have been a showcase of histrionics in a lesser actress. 

Luke Wilson's character was rather right up his old alley, but it was good to see him in a conflicted dramatic role. The child actors who played the two Henderson kids, Riley Thomas Stewart and Ursula Parker, were both very cute and natural in their portrayals, not annoying. Powers Boothe, who played the Henderson patriarch, also had his shining moments as his tough old character battles Alzheimer's disease and loneliness from his wife's death.

I liked how the whole story unfolded. Yes, the story elements were all soap opera staples, but the way they were woven together by director James Cox was interesting and involving. The musical score and the country-flavored songs were all very emotionally apt to the scenes they accompanied. The cinematographer's skillful play with lights and glare also serve the film well. As a whole, this quiet unheralded film was a pleasant surprise which more people should know about. 7/10.

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