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Away From Her: A Review

April 5th, 2016 (07:22 am)

A review of the 2006 film, Away From Her, directed by Sarah Polley and written by Sarah Polley and Alice Munro
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Julie Christie's heartbreakingly beautiful performance is not enough to elevate this script, which offers some insights into Alzheimers, but which also is unfocused and filled with far-fetched plot elements.
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It's difficult to believe that a woman who is as high-functioning early in the film as Fiona (Christie's character) would insist on being put in a facility for Alzheimers patients at that stage in her disease. And I have never heard of a facility prohibiting relatives from contacting the patient for a month; it's hard to fathom why such a rule would exist. Also, her deterioration from cross-country-skiing, erudite dinner-party hostess to mostly nonverbal, bedridden invalid takes place over 3 or 4 months, much faster than the progress of the disease in any Alzheimer's patient I’ve known.
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The vague, undeveloped subplot about her husband Grant's long-ago infidelity, apparently with a student, adds nothing of interest. That, as well as the relationships between Fiona and a nonverbal patient, Aubrey, and between Fiona's husband and Aubrey's wife seem to have been because a bad screenwriting book said modern movies need sexual tension.
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Gordon Pinsent is wonderful as Grant, and because this is a film about the effect of the disease on the people around the patient, his emotional turmoil is more central to the film than Fiona's. But as devoted as he is to his wife -- and as guilty as he feels about having cheating on her – I was confused when he suddenly decided to cheat on her again, this time with Aubrey's wife Marian. Especially when he and Marian didn't even seem to like each other.
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The plot jumps back and forth, starting with Grant showing up on Marian's doorstep several months after Fiona enters the facility. Then it jumps back to the events leading up to admitting her there, with interruptions for later Grant/Marian scenes and earlier Grant/Fiona scenes. Some of the flashbacks are effective; others are just interruptions. And the Grant/Marian frame story seems a desperate attempt to add unnecessary suspense by raising questions and withholding the answers. By the end, I had worked up a little interest in the Fiona-Aubrey relationship. That's when the film abruptly stopped, just before the reunion that might have illuminated her feelings for him.
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This film has fine performances and some gorgeous photography (especially in the cross-country skiing scenes). For those reasons, and for the flashes of insight into the horrors of the disease, I am glad I saw it. But the plot holes and clumsy handling of the extramarital relationships make it difficult for me to wholeheartedly recommend it.