Sunday, October 5, 2014

Streaming tip: Catch Andrew Levitas' beautifully acted, funny, moving LULLABY

One of those movies -- Adore and The Ledge come immedi-ately to mind -- that tackles a theme that sets many people's teeth on edge, LULLABY came and went from theaters in a flash. Fortunately it's streamable now on Netflix, which should enable it to reach a wide and appreciative audience. In this case the theme is the suicide of a terminally ill patient -- played by that great actor, Richard Jenkins, about as well as I ever seen a character like this brought to life -- and how his decision divides his not-always-so-loving family.

As written and directed by actor-turned-filmmaker Andrew Levitas, shown at left, with style, smarts and grace, what could easily become a sour roll in recrimination is instead leavened by Levitas with a surpisingly amount of genuine humor and charm. Add to this a first-rate cast of starry principals who bring some of their best work to this project, and you have a little sleeper of a movie that will have many audiences murmuring, "How did we miss this one?!" Well, you missed it because too many critics pounced on its flaws (and, yes, there are some) rather than on its many virtues, starting with a superb cast put to great use, and the fact that the movie faces death head on, eyes open and heart full.

In the lead role, Garrett Hedlund (above) continues to show the kind of star-making talent and charisma he exhibited in On the Road. He's surrounded by some fine actors -- from Jessica Brown Findlay (as his sour sister) and Amy Adams (at bottom, left, as his ex-girlfriend) to Jennifer Hudson and Terence Howard (below, as nurse and doctor at the hosital where Dad is spending his last days) -- who bring truth, urgency (and in Hudson's case, some sass) to their roles.

Where Levitas falls down on the job is not always knowing where and when to use the camera correctly. There's a scene toward the end when that camera desperately needs to move from one character to the next; instead, it remains fixed on the family group for far too long. This is minor, however, when set against what the filmmaker has accomplished.

Knowing for oneself when to pull the plug is vastly important -- whatever the law of the land or one's hypocritical religion might decree. (There's a wonderful scene here of a religious celebration/dinner to which the family invites an on-duty police officer, played by Daniel Sunjata, above, right)

Add to this a sweet sub-plot about a dying young girl from a ward on a lower floor who befriends the Hedlund character As played by the luminous Jessica Barden, this character, who could easily fall into sentimental nonsense, retains her spunk and importance as yet another guide in our hero's late-arriving education. (Hedlund sings, too, and has a wonderful number he performs at movie's end.)

There's so much that's meaningful and moving -- funny, too, for Levitas knows how to spike his screenplay with dark-but-amusing fun -- that the film succeeds on a number of levels. Mostly, though, it's a fine guide to family, frustration, caring, and the end of days. Lullaby, from Media House Capital and running a long but very well-paced 117 minutes, is available now on Netflix streaming -- and elsewhere.

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