There is something not right about this movie. The title, for a start. What's that supposed to mean?

Diana was murdered three days ago. Her fiance Joe (Jake Gyllenhaal) is staying with her parents, Ben (Justin Hoffman) and Jo Jo (Susan Sarandon), for the funeral and, maybe, longer. It's a difficult time for all of them and yet no-one seems traumatised, or grief stricken. Jo Jo's been annoying Ben, but you feel that's always the case. He fusses about, humouring her and trying not to look lost. Joe looks lost all the time, but then, it's harder for him. This isn't home and he doesn't know what to do with his life, or anything, for that matter.

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Already, they are having discussions with their attorney (Holly Hunter) about the court case. Ben invites Joe to be a partner in his real estate business, even though Joe has no experience, nor interest in it. Ben remembers that the wedding invitations haven't been cancelled and Joe is sent to the post office to find them. He meets Bertie (Ellen Pompeo), who runs the place single-handed, as well as working at a bar in the evening. She's a Renee Zellweger person, which is quite a surprise in such a small town, and she's been celibate for three years, which is even more so. Naturally, they like the look of each other.

Is this a film about the aftermath of a family tragedy? If so, it doesn't come close to The Son's Room. Secrets and truths emerge, which cause emotional bruising, but nothing a slug of Scotch can't cure. Is it a courtroom drama about a deranged husband who shot his wife and then Diana "because she was there"? The case comes up very quickly and doesn't hang around. Hunter is sadly wasted. Is it Joe's story, the wanted guest who fulfils some missing son role, too confused to do the right thing, permanently uncertain which face to wear?

It moves at a respectful speed, slower than a teardrop. The performances shine like beacons in the fog. Sarandon, yet again, startles with her ingenuity and Hoffman parades his little smile like a badge of honour. Gyllenhaal is more detached and less dangerous than in Donnie Darko, although still the best actor of his generation. Pompeo looks fresh from the farm. She has to make an impossibly perfect girl feel real in a sentimental setting. No one can do that, not even Renee. But it's good to watch her try.

Reviewed on: 20 Feb 2003
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Aftermath of a murder as parents and fiance come to terms with their loss and the future. Out to own on October 2 as part of The Jake Gyllenhaal Collection box set.
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Leanne McGrath ***

Director: Brad Silberling

Writer: Brad Silberling

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon, Ellen Pompeo, Holly Hunter, Dabney Coleman

Year: 2002

Runtime: 112 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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