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— Muhammad Ali, When We Were Kings

MRQE Top Critic

Muscle Shoals

Even if the Muscle Shoals sound isn't on your iPod, you'll like seeing where it came from —Marty Mapes (review...)

Etta sings in Muscle Shoals

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With the release of “Loverboy,” Kevin Bacon’s universe expands as he takes on the role of director. Actors-turned-directors can be a dicey proposition and can justifiably give pause. Fortunately, Bacon (a self-professed graduate of the “Clint Eastwood School of Directing”) offers an extremely respectable feature.

Bacon directs himself and his wife
Bacon directs himself and his wife

Bacon overcomes a second potential obstacle for a movie: sharing scenes with and directing his wife. Over the years, we have seen mixed results on both accounts (think Madonna & Guy Ritchie!). Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon solve the first problem by not sharing scenes. Directorial discord was not an issue because as Bacon said somewhat jokingly during a Q&A “this was her project and she hired me to direct.” The result shows that her faith was not misplaced.

Victoria Redel’s novel describes the quest of Emily (Sedgwick) to become the type of parent she never had. The screenplay, adapted by Hannah Shakespeare, enhanced by Bacon’s directing, demonstrates a deep understanding of Emily’s childhood issues and how she continues to act out in her adult life. Nevertheless, it is Sedgwick who ultimately breathes life into Emily and sells a credible portrait of a woman continually battling the demons of abandonment, possession, and loss.

What differentiates this film from a Lifetime Movie of the Week is that the audience gets to see the point at which Emily goes off the deep end. More importantly, the film offers some evidence, but the conclusion is not spoon-fed to us. The audience actually has the opportunity to participate. As Don Kaufmann said in Adaptation, “McKee would approve.”

The film marks the acting debut of Dominic Scott Kay as Emily’s son, Paul. The cast reads like a call sheet of actors’ actors and includes Blair Brown (The Days & Nights of Molly Dodd), Campbell Scott (Singles), Marisa Tomei (The Guru), Matt Dillon (Crash), Oliver Platt (The Imposters), Sandra Bullock (Crash) and Carolyn McCormick (Law and Order). Each supporting actor admirably carries the plot forward. What is exceptional is how the supporting characters allow Sedgwick to play aloof. Furthermore, they provide an effective contrast to Emily, who is emotionally static in relating to and accepting grace from others. It actually pains Emily to be around other people and it subsequently pains the audience because they are allowed to feel like participants in those interactions.

All of the unfiltered craziness might make this seem like a bad movie, but it is not. A movie, in my opinion, is one person’s analysis of someone else’s life. It’s uncomfortable because we’re objective, rational people looking at someone who is not.  Although it was uncomfortable, I liked the technique. The principal actors did a good job of portraying largely despicable people doing deplorable things. In other words, the movie credibly evokes the reactionary contempt you would have for these people if you met them in real life. Being confronted by the contemptible is one thing, but finding out what drives these compulsions was where the "train wreck value" was at (i.e., I’m disgusted but I can’t look away).

Finally, music can make or break a film, especially a smaller film. Bacon generally demonstrates an understanding of this, especially where the score is concerned. He tapped the other half of his band, The Bacon Brothers, Michael, to compose. The score, at times, outshines the soundtrack of ’60s & ’70s classics meant to ground the flashbacks. Where the score is sublime and subtle, some of the songs feel too deliberate and heavy-handed, for example, the repeated use and excessive volume of Jimi Hendrix’ “Little Wing” during the Mrs. Harker scenes. The score, songs, and scene should complement and supplement each other. Such a discontinuity can take a viewer out of the movie experience. Hopefully Bacon’s training as a musician will help him improve this aspect of his filmmaking.

Since, the music is the only aspect of the film with which I take exception, I strongly recommend Loverboy.