Adapting from Alice Munro’s short story, actress Sarah Polley proves herself a genuinely talented filmmaker her first time out. On a technical level, she has a natural eye for composition, making the most of the wintery Canadian setting. The ensuing motif of whites and bright light fit the film’s tone perfectly, as did the repetitious use of fading in and out. Munro’s story is also well developed in to feature length. The pacing is a bit slow, but the wandering, jumpy structure of the narrative works considering the subject matter. I appreciated the fact that the relationship at the center was not made to be candy coated. It would be easy for a movie like AWAY FROM HER to be dripping with forced sentimentality and guilty melodrama, but Polley avoids this with a complex tale full of subtle inferences and realistically imperfect characters—making things more relatable and their predicament that much harder to watch. She’s also greatly aided by masterful performances from Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent. Christie has received well-deserved critical praise as the deteriorating Fiona, a convincing role that showcases her versatility. However, I was really impressed with Pinsent, who has the difficult job of constantly reacting to his wife’s condition and carrying the exterior story at the same time.
What stops AWAY FROM HER from achieving that extra level of greatness is a single scene towards the end. The first two thirds were good, but I just didn’t like the turn the film took in its final act. I won’t cite the specific gripe for the sake of avoiding spoilers, but it put a bitter taste in my mouth that never fully washed out, even though the very end works well. The character’s behavior is explained, but it in some ways cheapened what had otherwise been a thoughtful and poignant movie.
Commentary by Julie Christie: It’s a pleasure hearing a graceful and seasoned performer like Christie talk about film, but there are a lot of quiet parts. It would’ve been nice to give her someone to bounce off of, especially Polley or Pinsent.
Deleted Scenes (8:12): There’s one scene that’s a nice addition, but most were cut for good reasons. All are available (and one is required) with helpful commentary by Polley.
The disc also has Trailers and a pre-stamped envelope should you feel inclined to make a donation to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Extra Tidbit: Am I the only person who gets Sarah Polley and Hope Davis confused?