Eye For Film >> Movies >> Niagara Motel (2005) Film Review
Reviewed by: Anton Bitel
In reality, hotels and motels are usually the location of a brief, refreshing stopover between here and there, but in the world of cinema they tend to be places where people get stuck. Last Year In Marienbad, La Nina Santa, The Shining, The Consequences Of Love and Barton Fink all feature characters who have become frozen at some crossroads in their lives from which they are unable to move on. And so too the marginalised figures in Niagara Motel seem incapable of escaping their past demons, or present desperation, as they hole up in the rundown establishment of the title, way off the town's more romantic central strip.
Phillie (Craig Ferguson), the janitor, has been drifting about in a permanent drunken stupor ever since his wife fell off a boat on their honeymoon years ago and disappeared. The young waitress Loretta (Caroline Dhavernas) must decide whether or not to keep her unborn baby, while fending off the demands of a Mormon stapler salesman (Tom Barnett), a would-be porn merchant (Kevin Pollak), the parents of her former husband (who was eaten by a bear) and her husband's best friend (who impregnated her).
In one room, ex-junkie Denise (Anna Friel) cannot help reverting to her old ways, as she and her more dependable ex-con husband (Kristen Holden-Ried) attempt to regain custody of their fostered child, while, in another, the marriage of Henry (Peter Keleghan) and Lily (Wendy Crewson) seems to be in freefall, as the humiliation of being middle-aged, unemployed and alone washes over them.
Based on three of the six interrelated plays that made up George F. Walker's Suburban Motel cycle, Gary Yates' film is a tragicomic ensemble piece about people on the edge and love on the rocks. The twee farce of Loretta's story dominates and somewhat overstays its welcome, but its comedy provides necessary relief from the other much darker content. Denise is her own worst enemy and her recidivism leads her (almost) to bury one woman alive and to shoot another dead. Some of these situations are blackly funny, but we are never allowed to forget the conflict between Denise's urgent need and profound inability to be a caring mother, and Friel reveals every utterance and gesture to be a pained cry for help.
Bleakest of all is Henry and Lily's story, as one flirts with suicide and the other with prostitution. There are few laughs here and interestingly Yates has decided to close his film, not with Loretta's unexpected salvation, Denise's living "hell," or Phillie's strange redemption, but with a vision of the married couple sitting on a bench, contemplating their disappointments. In a brilliant single take (the details of which it would be criminal to disclose), Yates manages to show that their youthful passion is behind them, death lies ahead and the only thing in between is their own fragile togetherness. This final image, with its haunting lack of resolution (as well as a bizarre allusion to the end of Barton Fink), is of itself worth the price of admission.Reviewed on: 11 Nov 2005