David Gordon Green
Review by Beth Gilligan
Posted on 26 January 2007
Source 35mm print
Features: The 2007 Sundance Film Festival
Snow Angels marks something of a departure for writer-director David Gordon Green. His first three films (George Washington, All the Real Girls, and Undertow) largely deemphasized narrative in favor capturing the emotions of the characters onscreen, a lyrical approach that earned him comparisons to Terrence Malick (who in fact served as a producer on the latter film). Snow Angels is by far the most plot-driven of his films, but unlike in Undertow, where his confidence as a filmmaker seemed to erode somewhat when forced to shift into more conventional narrative gears, here he handles the multifaceted story with aplomb.
Based on a novel of the same name by Stewart O’Nan, the film revolves around several characters in a small Pennsylvania town. Arthur, a high school student, works at a Chinese restaurant with his former baby-sitter Annie, on whom he has long harbored a tiny crush. Struggling to cope with his parents’ separation, he is unsure of how to act when a girl his own age begins to show interest in him. Annie, on the other hand, is juggling an affair with her co-worker Barb’s husband with the demands of motherhood, all the while fending off the attentions of her irresponsible husband Glenn, from whom she is separated. Towards the end of the film, a tragic event occurs that forces them all to reevaluate their relationships with each other.
If the above description sounds somewhat melodramatic, those familiar with Green’s directing style can rest assured he handles this material with trademark restraint. The beginning and ending scenes of Snow Angels contain a series of fades that establish the character of the town, but Green leans more heavily on his actors than the landscape to set the emotional tenor of the film. This decision pays off to varying degrees; while Kate Beckinsale delivers a nuanced performance as a young woman trapped in a thankless job and an unsatisfying relationship, Sam Rockwell veers dangerously close to scenery-chewing with his depiction of Glenn, a born-again Christian desperately trying to reclaim his glory days.
Green does, however, manage to achieve a fine balance between humor and melodrama throughout the film (with the casting of Amy Sedaris in the role of Annie’s co-worker Barb being a particularly inspired choice). While O’Nan’s book is set in the 1970s, Green locates the action in the present, but the overall feel of Snow Angels, as in his previous films, a timeless one.