The Safety of Objects

(2003) *** R
121 min. IFC Films. Director: Rose Troche. Cast: Glenn Close, Jessica Campbell, Patricia Clarkson, Joshua Jackson, Moira Kelly.

Like Robert Altman's appropriation of the Raymond Carver ouevre for the film Short Cuts, Rose Troche's The Safety of Objects imaginatively weaves together the pieces of A. M. Homes's short story collection of the same name. The author's surname is also key to her subject, as she penetrates the surburban mise en scène to skewer psychotic notions of comfort food: games, fantasies, denial, and the emotional transference of materialism. With a capable ensemble cast anchored by Glenn Close, Troche neatly navigates Homes's terrain of memory and moment.

Close plays the mother and emotional lynchpin of the Gold family, with its emotionally remote father (Robert Klein), guilt-ridden daughter (Jessica Campbell), and comatose son (Joshua Jackson). Dermot Mulroney and Moira Kelly play the testy Trains, whose son (Alex House) carries on an erotic relationship with his sister's twelve-inch plastic glamour doll. Patricia Clarkson plays Annette Jennings, the middle-aged one-time paramour of the young comatose man; she's juggling a pending divorce and two daughters (Kristen Stewart and Haylee Wanstall). Meanwhile, Helen Christianson (Mary Kay Place) questions her mundane marriage. Characters on the fringe, including a mall cop and a pool man, enter into the increasingly bizarre proceedings, including an endurance contest for a new auto (like that depicted in the documentary Hands on a Hardbody) and a kidnapping.

Writer-director Troche also co-edits the film, and the superior cutting is key to the film's effect. Like The Hours, The Safety of Objects launches with a survey of characters on one rough morning and slowly--with tantalizing restraint, looses flashback glimpses of the past as frustratingly, briefly vivid as real glimpses of memory. Once Troche essentially establishes the characters' traumas, she shows them compensating with petty possessions--an electric guitar, a baseball glove, the aforementioned doll--with disturbingly misguided zeal for the healing power, or so-called "safety," of objects. This practice markedly contrasts to the personal disconnect in each family. Ultimately, letting go of material objects becomes a metaphor for loosing emotional burdens.

This type of allegorical ensemble piece invariably comes off as overrefined or affected--and heaven knows we've seen most of these story elements before in other movies--but Troche and her cast sell it well, the story's eccentric flavor exerting a seductive pull. Periodic internal monologues, like verses in a song, endear us to these all-too-familiar lost souls.

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