Falling Angels

***1/2

Reviewed by: Symon Parsons

Growing up in 1969 is tough. It isn't any easier if your mother is an alcoholic ex-dancer whose spirit has been broken by a bullying, militaristic husband. It gets considerably worse when said husband cancels a family holiday for a two-week atomic war drill spent in the family's underground bunker.

Falling Angels is the story of three girls in these circumstances. Their mother (Miranda Richardson) is a comatose presence in the home. Whatever personality she once had has now splintered and split between her daughters, who must cope as best they can.

They react in different ways - Lou (Katharine Isabelle) hooks up with a young American activist, experiments with drugs and sets up home in the bomb shelter. Norma (Monte Gagne) withdraws into silence and fantasy, while Sandy (Kristin Adams) tries to find a substitute father in a sleazy shoe salesman.

A story of girls becoming women, set at a time when all women were rediscovering their roles, Falling Angels is a film of quiet charm, graced by moments of nicely observed humour and great performances. It's especially worth mentioning Callum Keith Rennie (recently seen in the forgettable Blade: Trinity), as the father. Even at his most tyrannical, there's a touching insecurity about him, a fear of losing control that we learn gradually is the result of a tragic incident in the past. The other standout is Isabelle, as the rebel amongst the siblings, trying to grow up as quickly as possible, yet unable to separate herself emotionally from her family.

Lacking the budgets and star power of their American neighbours, Canadian filmmakers have long had to rely on intelligent writing and thoughtful direction. In this respect, the understated, sensitive Falling Angels is as Canadian as Celine Dion covered in maple syrup. It's a kind-hearted story of flawed people, trying to do their best with variable degrees of success.

We're all fallen angels, the film says. We may not know why, or how to change things, but it's a comforting message all the same.

Reviewed on: 10 Feb 2005
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Falling Angels packshot
Three sisters growing up in a dysfunctional Canadian home in the late Sixties.
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Director: Scott Smith

Writer: Esta Spalding, based on the novel by Barbara Gowdy

Starring: Katharine Isabelle, Monte Gagne, Kristin Adams, Miranda Richardson, Callum Keith Rennie, Mark McKinney

Year: 2003

Runtime: 109 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Canada

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