Year Released: 2008
Directed by: Vadim Perelman
Starring: Uma Thurman, Evan Rachel Wood, Eva Amurri
(R, 90 min.
"It is only when we realize that life is taking us nowhere that it begins to have meaning" P.D. Ouspensky
You’re sure to find something to like in this artsy teen metaphysical thriller/ morality play. Whether Director Perelman transcends genre or gets himself muddled up in too many is for you to decide. But see it for the acting alone, especially the superb performances by the three female leads.
The story is seen through the haunted eyes of Diana (Umma Thurman) who can take no joy in her idyllic life with a devoted husband and beautiful daughter because of a high school tragedy some fifteen years prior. We catch her past life in a series of flashbacks with the very competent Evan Rachel Wood playing the rebellious teen Diana and Eva Amurri playing her best friend Maureen. While each flashback fills in a few more details of the final days of their senior year, we are continually teased with snatches of the climax, where a lone Columbine like killer catches the two in the bathroom and vows to kill one and only one of them. As the fifteen year memorial of that tragedy looms, the survivor Diana now feels less and less that she deserves her beautiful life.
The film works on many levels. Let’s start with the one that is the most successful - the unique friendship between polar opposites. Young Diana loves forbidden fruit, not for itself but because it is forbidden. She peppers her speech with casual profanities and engages in a dangerous liaison with a tattooed bad boy who keeps a caged cougar in his living room. A cigarette is never far from her lips, whether she is in the neighbor’s swimming pool or the gym locker room - and if we are to believe her boasts - pot and other drugs are close companions as well. Maureen, an Evangelical Christian, is shy and reserved, blushing as she talks about a first date, content to dream of marriage and children as her future, which Diana describes as “a few rides around the block and then waiting for the Rapture.”
Each seems to complete the other, and with few exceptions, neither tries to pull the other over to her side. Diana waits for Maureen after church, wondering whether they had “talked in tongues” during the service, while Maureen’s shock turns to giggles as Diana recalls some of her more outlandish behavior. Some have questioned the probability of such a friendship – the whore and the Madonna – as the two jokingly refer to themselves one day, but the two actresses, in my opinion, carry it off.
As to the arty aspects, not so much, but the fault is not in our stars but in our overzealous director. The biology teacher mentions that each person is 72 percent water, and it sometimes seems that percentage applies to the film as well, where we are literally drowning in the two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen molecule. We have slow motion underwater photography at the pool, rain soaked streets and suburban sprinkler system soaked girls, not to mention an underwater bath sequence for the older Diana as well as the burst plumbing in the high school bathroom when the teen killer holds Diana and Maureen at bay. Birth, death, rebirth, fertility, and purity – all right already, but too much symbolism can be as ruinous as too much salt.
As for the metaphysical thriller aspects, these too are somewhat heavy handed. The life and death choice given to the two best friends seems a jarring melodramatic touch to a relationship that was already interesting in its own right. And to what extent does recreating the terrible school carnage that once looped tragically across our TV screens seem exploitive? It does, however, set up the surprise ending that the title suggests and frame a moral choice that anchors the film.
And here is where The Life Before Her Eyes loses so many critics, I think. One scene in particular focuses their wrath: a young and handsome professor lecturing on conscience with an attentive young Diana in the audience. I will admit, in reality, the subject would more likely be “The Unproductive Nature of Guilt and its Deleterious Effect upon Human Relationships.” However, it is as though the mere mention of a sense of right and wrong sets some critics’ blood boiling. I also think, though they would never state it, they are somewhat roiled that Maureen is so sweet, reasonable, and non judgmental. Evangelical Christians are not supposed to behave that way, especially on film.
Take in this out of the way film like a visit to a funky boutique just before you hit the mall.
Behind the green lawn, the cozy porch with the wooden swing, enveloped in her beautiful and meticulous kitchen, the older Diana prepares dinner, sautéing ground beef, mincing the onions and garlic with skilled precision. Her daughter Emma is in the next room listening to television. But the sounds that reach her in the kitchen belie Emma’s description of the bland cartoons she says she is watching, and Diana strides into the room to catch her in a lie.
Of course, the rebels grown up are always more outraged at their own wayward youth, partly because they may blame their genes, and partly because they know exactly what is still to come. At any rate, the dinner burns almost as hotly as Diana.
Let’s give her another try with this delicious skillet recipe, chocked full of good vegetables and sure to please even fussy eaters.
Here are a few more good old fashioned home cooked favorites:
Ground Beef Zucchini Skillet
1 pound ground beef
1 tablespoon dried minced onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 (15.25 ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 medium zucchini, halved and sliced
1 (4.5 ounce) jar sliced mushrooms, drained
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
In a skillet, cook the beef, onion and garlic over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; drain. Stir in the corn, tomatoes, zucchini, mushrooms, basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until heated through and zucchini is tender. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
Recipe Source: allrecipes.com