Quantcast
subscriber help

artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Reign Over Me (review)

Room to Breathe

I can’t stand Adam Sandler, can’t stand his pandering to the basest, most juvenile instincts of his audience, can’t stand pretty much anything about him. I once vowed never to see another Adam Sandler movie, but this was before he started taking on dramatic roles and I was forced to reconsider this self-ban… and it turned out that I liked him very much in 2002’s Punch-Drunk Love. But now, after Reign Over Me, I wonder whether he’s as one-note as a dramatic actor as he is as a comedian.
Sandler is one monotone note here: dead-eyed hollowness standing in for grief, much as dead-eyed hollowness stood in for emotional repression in Love (which makes me start to wonder whether the nuances I thought I saw in him in that film were really there at all). His Charlie Fineman sits around his empty apartment playing video games, or scooters around the streets of Manhattan with headphones blaring music into his ears — this is about all he can manage since his wife and three young daughters were killed on 9/11. He’s dropped out of his work — he was a dentist — and out of the lives of his in-laws, the only family he has left. It’s not that he simply cannot talk about his loss: he denies it happened, denies that he ever had a wife and daughters. But Sandler (Click, The Longest Yard) can’t sell it, at least not to me. Behind the physical expressions of his supposed inner pain — his shuffle and his muttering and his unwillingness to look anyone in the eye — is nothing. Charlie is but a vague sketch of pain. When he has some dialogue to speak that expresses in words his anguish — this comes at the end of the film, in a brief confrontation with the in-laws — the moment is heartbreaking, and Sandler flares momentarily to life. But I don’t believe a second of anything about Charlie before that moment, and then it’s too late.

So I prefer to think of Reign Over Me not as an Adam Sandler movie but a Don Cheadle movie, and that makes me feel a bit better about it. Cheadle is Alan Johnson, Charlie’s former college roommate, who runs into Charlie by chance on the street one day; lonely Charlie latches on to Alan as someone who didn’t know him as a family man, someone not from the life he lost. Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda, Ocean’s Twelve) is as concentrated as he always is, though he has less to work with than Sandler — his story is the usual, trite “my wife doesn’t understand I need space” stuff; Jada Pinkett Smith (Madagascar, Collateral) as Alan’s wife is stuck in the typical wife-as-nag role. Alan’s story is, alas, just a few steps away from the utter tripe of I Think I Love My Wife, except here it’s the bored husband “cheating” by reverting back to adolescence and hanging out too much with his guy-pal drinking beer. Cheadle’s good enough to make it work in a way that Chris Rock can’t, but it’s still depressingly ordinary.

But when he shoots for the less ordinary, writer-director Mike Binder doesn’t fare too well, either. A subplot involving a patient of Alan’s — he’s a dentist too — is strained, awkward, and borders on the misogynist, forcing Saffron Burrows (Troy, Peter Pan), as the patient, into the uneviable position of trying to make believable the kind of female character that exists only in men’s fantasies. That she’s still around by the end of the film — that Alan can stand to be in the same room with her — strains credulity.

She is the perfect illustration of how Binder is simply trying too hard. His film The Upside of Anger a few years ago was a much better, much more subtle exploration of dealing with grief in the post-9/11 world, even if it was not explicitly about 9/11 as Reign is. That explictness is what sinks Reign in the end — Binder is trying to coerce emotions that don’t need coercing. The way he shoots the city of New York here, with a respect for the street and for how the city breathes, is one of the best tributes to my town I’ve seen since 9/11. I wish he’d given the rest of his story the same room to breathe.

(Technorati tags: , , , )


MPAA: rated R for language and some sexual references

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
explore:
  • Scott P.

    Typically, I love your reviews but I’ve got to disagree on this one. Maybe your dislike of all things Sandler has clouded your judgement.

    In particular, a couple of your statements bother me. You described Sandler’s performance as “dead-eyed hollowness standing in for grief”. We only see the Charlie Fineman of today– 5 years after the tragic event. I can only imagine that after 5 years of torturous grief, many people would turn to exactly that– dead-eyed hollowness. Binder doesn’t resort to flashbacks (a brave choice) so he must tell the story using the completely dysfunctional 2007 version of Charlie Fineman.

    Another snippet– “Charlie is but a vague sketch of pain. When he has some dialogue to speak that expresses in words his anguish — this comes at the end of the film, in a brief confrontation with the in-laws — the moment is heartbreaking, and Sandler flares momentarily to life. But I don’t believe a second of anything about Charlie before that moment, and then it’s too late.”

    What about the earlier scene outside of his shrink’s office when he tells Cheadle & Tyler about his wife & girls??? There wasn’t a dry eye in the theatre during this scene.

    Here’s a question for everyone– if not Adam Sandler, then who should play this role??? I can’t think of any current American actor who would have pulled this off as well as Sandler.

  • John Sacino

    well i cant think but agree with her.
    Adam Sandler is a very limited actor. He has 2
    movie modes wise cracking funny guy and blank serious-take-pity-on-me-mode.Sometimes he’ll mix
    them in one movie. He’ll switch off his 2 acting tools in one movie. Everything you said about this movie is right. Only I dont think Sandler , was the only guy for this movie.
    Sure in Reign over me he shows a realistic overtone of amguish for his lost.Keanu Reeves for one, would of done just fine with this movie. Owen Wilson is another guy that could of did it. Iam just picking names out of the blue , but others could of pulled it off. for sure.

  • MaryAnn

    if not Adam Sandler, then who should play this role???

    How about Don Cheadle?

    Maybe your dislike of all things Sandler has clouded your judgement.

    So how do you explain my review of *Punch Drunk Love*?

    he must tell the story using the completely dysfunctional 2007 version of Charlie Fineman.

    Then he needed an actor who could sell that. He didn’t get that in Sandler.

  • Scott P.

    Well, there’s no way we’re going to magically insert Keanu or Owen into this pic so you’ll have to live with Sandler. From what I’ve seen, Reign Over Me is getting positive reviews from about 2/3 of critics– not bad. Heck, that’s better reviews than any other current top 10 movies.

    More importantly, it seems that moviegoers enjoy the movie more than the critics (for example, yahoo shows “C+” from the critics & “B” from fans). Whether you love or hate Adam Sandler, I recommend seeing the movie with an open mind. I think you will walk out of the theatre saying “Did Adam Sandler’s acting really make me cry???”

  • MaryAnn

    Well, there’s no way we’re going to magically insert Keanu or Owen into this pic so you’ll have to live with Sandler.

    No, actually, I do not not have to “live with Sandler.” I can ignore the movie, or complain about it. I do not have to just shut up and live with it.

    From what I’ve seen, Reign Over Me is getting positive reviews from about 2/3 of critics– not bad. Heck, that’s better reviews than any other current top 10 movies.

    And so I should change my opinion? Not gonna happen.

  • Moe Murph

    Perceptive, as usual, MaryAnn. I must confess I’ve always had a little weak spot for the sweet version of Sandler (of the “Wedding Singer” variety), I know not why.

    One thing hit me, that I haven’t seen covered anywhere else. While my own case is eons from the trauma portrayed here, I found after a bitter divorce (involving some intense betrayal and financial dishonesty) music was an essential “awakening” force.

    The Sandler character’s drum jamming, playing at the punk club, could this be a part of his healing?? Why are the club people cartoon figures or silent stock figures in the background? It is given short shrift by the screenwriter, but maybe the raw punk, the screaming,the drums, are the character’s means of catharsis and expressing his grief ? Again, a rabbit hole not gone down, but it hit me (I am a poet and lyricist). I include excerpts on this I wrote a year ago on this very process, Comments from anyone welcome, artists sought!!

    I wrote:

    “I remember, but can’t feel anymore, the raggedness, exposure, as if each cell of my brain was lying raw, as if the hair, scalp, skull had been peeled away. Certain moments stand out, a cold December morning, a solitary rush to an office in Friendship Heights , Maryland with a sweated-out registered check, the threat of foreclosure hanging in the air. Another morning, the advent of the unthinkable possibility that I didn’t have to stay married forever, that life could start all over again, alone. Other moments following, the unthinkable becoming possible, the possible inevitable…………………………………………..”

    “Something else is stirring. Music. The post divorce torpor begins to lift at bluegrass nights in Adams Morgan, Celtic fiddle at Fado’s. I am waking up. I hear a young man play and sing bluegrass and feel an indescribable longing. I begin to study guitar with him, and write five songs. My own songs! I follow the websites of bands on the road, touring, creating music together, creating little musical families, babies. Wow!”

    Regards,

    Moe Murph

Pin It on Pinterest