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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Self identity and Snow Angels

David Gordon Green's new film delivers

Published: April 11, 2008
Section: Arts, Etc.

Snow Angels is one hard movie to write about. I went into David Gordon Green’s latest independent film expecting much of the same visual ambiance as his previous movies, such as George Washington or All the Real Girls.

What I got was a multi-faceted complex character drama that actually succeeded in being complex, something most movies of the type fail at achieving. An emotional tale of self-identity, creation, and destruction, Snow Angels is a little movie that achieves much. As with all of Green’s work, it has its flaws, but the movie sticks with you.

Snow Angels deals with lives of a good many people surrounding a young man and his childhood babysitter. Arthur (Michael Angarano) watches from afar as the former babysitter, Annie (Kate Beckinsdale), deals with her crumbled marriage to the damaged Glenn as well as its effects on her young daughter. Arthur must face his parents’ estrangement, along with a burgeoning love interest (Olivia Thirlby).

This of course is only the bare bones of the plot, as we also are treated to snippets of the lives of Annie and Glenn’s parents, as well as the waitress Barb, and her adulterous husband Nate.

The real drama in Snow Angels comes from the central storyline revolving around an estranged couple, Annie and Glenn. Glenn (Sam Rockwell) is a former alcoholic and suicide attempt. Struggling to regain a connection to the family he left behind, Glenn tries his hardest to reassert himself into their lives, with increasingly dire consequences. In this role, Rockwell is superb. Rockwell is one of the best actors in cinema today, and is equally adept in comedy as he is in serious drama (he does a little of both in this movie). He creates a character who is at once sympathetic, caring, and ultimately very frightening. He reminds us that normal human beings are the ones who can be the most destructive.

Kate Beckinsdale, as Glenn’s counterpart, is equally up to the task. Her character is a woman who has faced some difficulties in her life, from her life as a single parent, to a series of relationships with men who are nowhere near as genuine as they seem. Her portrayal of a normal woman, one who appropriately makes mistakes, forced into tragic situations, is excellent.

Amongst all this, light is breathed into the story around Angarano’s character. A young high-schooler who watches all this from afar, Arthur grows up a great deal throughout the film, and his storyline provides the movie’s reason for hope.

Additional praise should be given to Nicky Katt, as a hilariously inept and useless adulterer, as well as Connor Paolo, as a profane high schooler, both in supporting roles. Thirlby is also quite charming as Arthur’s rather aloof love interest.

Green is a talented director. Taking a bit from the Terrence Malick school of improvisational film-making, many of the shots Green chooses are interesting, smart, and add much to the overall feel of the film. There are several scenes in this film that are absolutely stunning. The scenes with Glenn and his daughter are heartbreaking and touching at the same time, while the scenes with Arthur and his love interest are realistically awkward but appealing. Occasionally Green lets scenes play on too long, and his adherence in part to improvisation allows his actors to occasionally overdo it.

Nonetheless, Green is still a director to watch, and his latest movie is a testament to the emotional and thematic connection he can make with his audience.

Snow Angels is about self-identity. Glenn is a man who is slowly losing everything he thinks he is. Annie is a woman searching for a new self. Arthur is learning to embrace his own identity. Much of what takes place over the course of the movie emanates from these conflicts. Green reinforces this with some touching reminders throughout the movie. At one point, Rockwell destroys a picture frame above his bed. Behind it is a hand print with “me” written above it.

These kinds of markers populate the film, and symbolize a man’s loss of his own self. We are also given a look into the lives of the protagonists’ parents, and each one again provides another layer into why these characters are the way they are. Glenn’s parents coddle him, and Annie’s mother treats her like nothing is good enough.

You can trace where their problems come from. It is rare that a movie achieves that kind of layered depictions of characters. It’s something that books do really well. But surprisingly and to great insight, Snow Angels pulls it off.

This movie is not perfect. But it is excellently put together and acted. It is a story that feels like it could happen, and while not everything works, the best moments are so well orchestrated and pack such a punch, that it’d be a shame if you missed this film.