Snow Angels (**)
The paint-by-numbers American realism of David Gordon Green’s (George Washington, All the Real Girls) new ensemble piece, Snow Angels is, at first, endurable. Set in small-town Pennsylvania, the film introduces us to a familiar group of suffering white people: sexually awakened teenager Arthur (Michael Angarano), who is coping with the separation of his parents; Arthur’s old babysitter Annie (Kate Beckinsale), who now has a child of her own; her estranged, possibly psychotic, born-again husband, Glen (Sam Rockwell); and Barb (Amy Sedaris), whose husband, Nate (Nicky Katt), is having an affair with Annie. Dime-store literary devices, which are Green’s stock-in-trade, are everywhere—Arthur’s cold, emotionally unavailable father (Griffin Dunne) studies the sex life of plants; Arthur’s new girlfriend (Olivia Thirlby) wears vintage glasses, carries a vintage camera, and sees things for what they really are—but there is a certain momentum created by the characters’ brief, tetchy interactions. A handful of improvised scenes with Annie’s child Tara (Grace Hudson) are particularly noteworthy.
The film positively spoils, however, once it introduces its crisis, one involving Annie’s daughter, which, of course, tangles up storylines and causes all of Snow Angels’ characters to brood at length about the natures of their respective existences. But this is not enough for Green and Stewart O’Nan, who wrote the novel on which the film is based. The initial crisis is complemented by a climax so wrenchingly gruesome, yet so unsurprising and tacked on that it makes Snow Angels seem despicable. Sundance fare such as this may boast of restricting its violence to tasteful, symbolic denouements, but its take on mortality is becoming as laughable and numbing as the body count in Rambo.
Snow Angels is now playing at the Varsity (55 Bloor St. W.).