The Girl In The Park

The Girl In The Park

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Hot on the heels of Changeling comes another film about a mother's response to the disappearance of her child. This time the mother in question is Julia (Sigourney Weaver), whose three-year-old daughter Maggie goes missing in a playground, but the main part of the story is set 16 years later when, never having got over her loss, Julia becomes obsessed with a mysterious young stranger who may or may not be her little girl.

It's a deceptively simple story, formulaic in places, but full of intriguing undercurrents. Julia has clearly been damaged by her grief, struggling to cope with any personal attachment, divorced from her husband and remote from her son. The fact that he's about to get married and his girlfriend is pregnant isn't helping, for all that the young couple try to be understanding. The stranger, played by Kate Bosworth, also has a fractured personality. She's clearly a fantasist, but it's unclear what she might be compensating for. What she definitely has is an energy and verve that gradually restore Julia's ability to enjoy life.

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On a deeper level, The Girl In The Park is a study of motherhood and what it means to be a parent. It's refreshingly straightforward about the obnoxiousness of teenagers, yet doesn't take the obvious routes into conflict. Although Julia's relationship with the stranger is a dramatic one, it's underscored by a strong natural bond that makes us question whether or not it matters who is biologically connected to whom. And if that sounds too schmaltzy, it's also blunt about the obsessive aspects of parental love, in all their ugliness. By taking in the stranger, Julia gets to complete the journey that was interrupted when her daughter disappeared, and by showing us this journey in microcosm, the film highlights both its absurdities and its centrality in our understanding of what it is to be human.

None of this would work without a terrific performance from Weaver, but she's reliable as ever, eminently watchable even when her character is quite unpleasant to be around. Bosworth is well cast as the stranger and they achieve a natural chemistry that adds to the sense of mystery about their relationship. If the supporting roles are a little underplayed, this is fitting given the egocentric nature of Julia's experience. And though this is often a harrowing film to watch, its witty script is often delicious and there are some delightful moments of humour.

Far more than it looks on the surface, The Girl In The Park is a mature, intelligent film with a deep understanding of its characters.

Reviewed on: 08 Dec 2008
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A woman whose daughter went missing 16 years ago becomes obsessed with a young woman she meets by chance.
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Director: David Auburn

Writer: David Auburn

Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Kate Bosworth, Alessandro Nivola, Keri Russell, David Rasche, Elias Koteas

Year: 2007

Runtime: 109 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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If you like this, try:

Changeling
Don't Look Now
Gone Baby Gone