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flick pick | The Safety of Objects 2001
Directed by: Rose Troche
Written by: A.M. Homes (book), Rose Troche (screenplay)
Starring: Glenn Close, Dermot Mulroney, Jessica Campbell, Patricia Clarkson, Joshua Jackson, Moira Kelly, Timothy Olyphant, Mary Kay Place
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under: drama
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something: serious
The critic says: / 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: /5 

Plot synopsis In a quintessentially suburban neighborhood, the sort where the lawns are always preternaturally green and the homes look like life-size dollhouses, four families struggle with private tragedies, messy inner lives and strained relationships. Middle-aged Esther Gold spends all her time tending to her teenaged son Paul, who lies in a coma in his old bedroom after a terrible car accident. Her bitter, sullen daughter Julie keeps tabs on who gets more of Mom's attention; it's no contest, Paul's way ahead, despite the fact that Julie's going through a rough time herself, and could really use someone to talk to. Annette Jennings is a frazzled single mom, trying to raise her kids and cope with a very difficult divorce; she cries a lot and yells a lot, and by and large, the other neighbors seem to treat her as if her sad situation were contagious. The Trains look like the perfect yuppie family from the outside; handsome dad Jim is a hardworking young lawyer, mom Susan stays in their beautiful home to care for the two beautiful kids. But the Trains have their secrets too. For one thing, son Jake has been conducting a vividly imagined and disturbingly torrid pseudo-relationship with his little sister's Barbie doll. Meanwhile, Jim sort of goes off the deep end when he learns that he's been passed over as partner despite how much he's put into the firm over the years; he simply stops showing up to work, telling no one -- not his bosses, or his secretary, not even his wife. Last but not least, there are the Christiansons. Perky Helen takes care of the kids and still seems to have endless amounts of energy to spare. She's the sort of woman who always has a smile on her face and a nice word for everyone; beneath the smile, however, she's actually in a bit of a funk, feeling out of touch with both her husband and the kids, and secretly pining away for her hot young gardener. For all these neighbors, it turns out that those picture-perfect homes hide less than ideal home lives -- and that despite those vast manicured lawns dividing one family from the next, it's impossible to keep everyone's lives from mingling, getting tangled, become hopelessly intertwined.

Review Suburban dysfunction is an ever-popular theme in contemporary movies and television, from major Oscar-winners like American Beauty to art-house darlings like Happiness to smash TV shows like my latest boob tube addiction, Desperate Housewives. Add The Safety of Objects to the list of excellent takes on life in suburbia. Rose Troche's underrated indie is a meticulously crafted movie that gracefully and deftly weaves together its myriad storylines, a la Robert Altman, to create a portrait of American middle-class angst that really resonates. The large ensemble cast is positively to die for; you get a respected Hollywood star (Glenn Close), indie stalwarts galore (Dermot Mulroney, Mary Kay Place, Patricia Clarkson) and some of the best bring young things out there (Jessica Campbell from Election, Timothy Olyphant of HBO's Deadwood). All the actors are terrific, but it's Glenn Close's subdued, half-numb Esther and Patricia Clarkson's falling-apart-at-the-seams Annette that anchor the storylines and provide most of the emotional depth. Yes, The Safety of Objects can make for somewhat bleak viewing, as it shows us exactly how easy it is to lose ourselves in the effort to conform to how we think others think we're supposed to be living. But hey, maybe that's not such a bad wake-up call to get, every once in awhile. And the nicest thing about The Safety of Objects is that if you look close, underneath the surface, you'll still be rewarded with glimpses of hope. —reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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