Sunday, October 14, 2012

"Empire Builder"...Film 2 of the CIFF by Pamela Powell

The description of this film by Chicago filmmaker, Kris Swanberg, was intriguing.  The synopsis was, a stay-at-home mom with a young infant was frustrated with her life in Chicago.  She grasps an opportunity to run away to Montana to stay while she waits for her husband to join her.  "Her idyllic life takes an unsettling turn when she begins a relationship with a local handyman..."  OK, I'm a stay at-home-mom.  I gave up a career in Speech Language Pathology to stay at home with my kids.  I went to this movie with another stay-at-home mom.  Let's face it, staying at home with the kids can be more difficult than going to work.  No positive reinforcement, no social life, no pay check, hours of cleaning, lack of sleep, and mind-numbing activities.  But not for all the tea in China would I trade any moment of staying at home!  I will, however, admit that on occasion, I wanted (and sometimes still do!) to run away.  Escape.  Especially with two teenagers and the stresses I have watched them endure helplessly from the sidelines, I wanted to escape.  But I didn't (or haven't yet).  I'm there for my kids no matter what.  So you can see why this film's description intrigued me.  And we all go to see movies and enjoy them even more when we can have empathy with the main characters.

Kris Swanberg was introduced to the audience prior to the screening.  She was adorably excited to have the audience view her first film.  She even took a picture of the audience!  Cute!  The lights dimmed and the film began.  Chicago.  You have to love it when you can identify backgrounds of your city.  Jenny, our main character and her baby were shown playing with a cause-effect toy (remember, I'm a speech path!), showing us her boredom and longing for another world.  Cut to a dinner party.  More boredom and regret was obvious.  Jenny then needed to pack for her trip to Montana, but it was "date night" with her husband.  She wanted to cancel as she had a lot to do, but her perfect husband expressed how important it is to spend time together and that he would help in whatever way he could so that she could do both the date night and pack for the trip.  Wow!  He must have passed the graduate level course entitled "Husband 301!"  Anyway, Mr. Perfect was a planner and a little bit compulsive with getting his wife and adorable baby to the train on time.  Jenny was quite the opposite.  Packing light (this coming from The Queen of Overpacking), she had no port-a-crib, no stroller, and only a couple light bags.  When I travelled with my son at that age, I was prepared for everything.  Maybe I was relating more to the husband than with Jenny.

Jenny arrived in Montana and walked with the baby in her arms (because she refused to bring the stroller that her husband suggested) and her luggage strapped over her shoulders to her family's cabin.  No running water, no civilization nearby that we can see, she somehow wound up with formula and food.  Ok, I'll let that pass.  We were told that she had family "in town."  Jenny then started clean-up mode to prepare for her husband's arrival in a week's time.  The handyman arrived to do major work such as installing a new roof.  I was thankful when Mr. Handyman arrived as there was actually some animation and dialogue that occurred.  I also thought, "Ok.  Now some action begins.  Now Jenny will communicate in some way what's going on or will have a torrid affair."  No, that was not the case.  We continued to slowly watch her daily routine unfold.  In addition, it was painful to watch this baby "talk," giggle, and make eye contact with his mom to receive a mousey vocal return with no affect.  This was the affect throughout the entire was flat!  Upon Jenny's arrival to the cabin, I began to have problems with the story-line as she frequently put her baby in harm's way.  For example, she allowed her 8 or 9 month old to remain unattended in the totally UN-childproofed house while she and Kyle, the handyman, went for a hike.   She also served this infant a burger, carrots, and mashed potatoes.  I was ok with the mashed potatoes, but the burger?  Carrots?  Really?  And how about allowing a baby to sleep in a regular bed with no safety guards who rolled, crawled and pulled to standing???  There were many other instances that other audience members audibly gasped their concern about the baby's well-being.  The baby, on the other hand, was to me the star of the show.  What a sweet and animated little guy!  The most natural  actor on the screen!

I needed more.  I understood Jenny's frustration with being a stay-at-home mom, but the audience wasn't given enough information about her previous life or her marriage to develop any empathy.  Her husband seemed sweet, caring, and although a bit decisive, he had to be as Jenny just seemed to float through her life.  I needed to care about someone other than having uneasy feelings for whether or not the baby was going to have lead poisoning from licking his fingers after touching the window sill!  I needed to dislike someone to justify Jenny's need to run away.  I needed dialogue and communication more than the long, ever-lingering shots of her stirring eggs.  The constant dull, flat affect become monotonous.  I got it.  She was unhappy.  I got that in the first five minutes.  Let something else happen.  Life happens in slow motion with monotony.  Reality in a movie is fine unless it lulls you into an uncaring relationship with the characters.  "Empire Builder" was a great premise with lots of promise only to let me down.

On to Market Place where (insert audible gasp here) we showed up without reservations!  To the iPhone to OpenTable to take care of THAT predicament!  Success!

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