The Bachelors

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Bachelors
"This is a tale told with unusual sensitivity and skill."

These days everybody is an expert on grief. When somebody dies, the conversation quickly moves to the Five Stages and assurances of support whilst they are worked through. There are endless self help books and articles, and guides for worried friends. But the real experts will tell you that grief is a very individual thing, and that sometimes it goes off script. When Bill (JK Simmons) suddenly loses his wife of 33 years, he falls into a deep depression that shows no sign of going away. His son Wes (Josh Wiggins) not only loses his mother but finds himself having to cope with his own grief with little help from his dad.

We catch up with the two of them a year later when Bill has got a job teaching calculus at a school run by an old friend, and Wes has become a student there. The youth quickly makes an impression on French teacher Carine (Julie Delpy) with his impressive grasp of the language, so is asked to help out fellow student Lacy (Odeya Rush), who is finding it a struggle. This instantly impresses other boys at the school, who have been lusting after her at the same time as bitching about her because she's quiet and antisocial. Meanwhile, Carine sets her sights on Bill as a romantic possibility, but he struggles to feel comfortable with the idea of getting close to someone new when he's still deeply in love with his wife.

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Films built around women saving troubled men from their folly are to a pennt in Hollywood, but this is a tale told with unusual sensitivity and skill. It's intriguing to watch Simmons playing against type. He delivers a delicate, multi-layered performance that sidesteps the usual schmaltz and lets us see a complex human being whom it's easy to feel for. The slow and awkward romance that develops between Bill and Carine is handled with great maturity, each character alert to the sensitivities, risks and responsibilities involved. Meanwhile, Wes shyly pursues Lacy, making the usual clumsy teenage mistakes along the way. A brief visit to her home reminds us that there are other ways for family life to be screwed up, and he has to try and get his head around her issues at the same time as coping with his dad's.

The script doesn't quite give this capable quartet the material they deserve. The provision of a very deliberate quirk for Bill is unfortunate and unnecessary. Rush has no difficulty giving depth to Lacy without the need for the self harm and sexual 'acting out' that reduce rather than enrich the character. These issues aside, however, it's well balanced and proceeds at a comfortable pace that makes room for us to get to know the characters rather than being unduly distracted by events. The affection between father and son, muted though it is by Bill's remoteness, gives the film a strong core.

Although we end with a resolution of sorts, there is a sense that Bill's problems will take a lot longer to deal with, whilst Wes' relationships with the others are inevitably complicated by his age and the prospect of college. The Bachelors is just a snapshot of a moment in life, but it's the sort of picture you'd want to keep. There's a shortage of films dealing with men on this level, and this is a welcome addition to their number.

Reviewed on: 17 Oct 2017
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A widowed father and his son meet two women who slowly begin to transform their lives.

Director: Kurt Voelker

Writer: Kurt Voelker

Starring: Odeya Rush, Jean Louisa Kelly, JK Simmons, Julie Delpy

Year: 2017

Runtime: 108 minutes

Country: US

Festivals:

Deauville 2017

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