Jonathan Safran Foer’s postmod novel couldn’t have made for a coherent movie—and it didn’t—but this is the only film you’re likely to find about a naive American (Elijah Wood) journeying into the heart of modern, comically semiprimitive Ukraine in search of his roots
This Chinese-box mystery is actually a romantic comedy—albeit one that’s been Rubik’s Cubed and set adrift in an unmoored consciousness by Charlie Kaufman’s beautiful screenplay. Jim Carrey stars as a shy nebbish in love with Kate Winslet’s bipolar tramp; once dumped, he seeks out a small firm that will literally wipe his memories of her right out of his brain. Of course, it’s not that easy, and neither is the film, since much of it takes place in a beleaguered subconscious that’s being technologically erased as we watch. In the end, though, the lovelorn mood trumps the gimmickry.
At its heart, this Ang Lee adaptation of the Rick Moody novel is a humane, sane, hilarious, and rich-as-mousse dispatch on the woes, risks, and costs of the all-American family, climaxing in the very real 1973 winter storm of the title and its largely symbolic fallout. The multiple character study encompasses an affable Dad (Kevin Kline) who’s equally bewildered by his affair with a trendy neighbor (Sigourney Weaver) and his slowly disintegrating family, a haunted Mom (Joan Allen) who’s lost somewhere between girlhood and disillusionment, a rebellious daughter (Christina Ricci) who’s experimenting with shoplifting and mock sex with the neighbor’s boys (Elijah Wood and Adam Hann-Byrd), and a sweet-natured pothead son (Tobey Maguire) who’s impassively grappling with puberty. But the real subject is vain, media-drunk modernity itself, and how it leaves us unprepared for the worst things in life—things that can happen at night, when everything’s frozen over.
The third of Barry Levinson’s Baltimore films is also the most ambitious, tracing the arc of a Russian immigrant family from 1914 into the 1960s. It’s a tumultuous arc that’s punctuated by Thanksgiving dinners—get-togethers that are fraught with generational hostility and growing pains. It’s an ebullient film, but the course of the holiday celebrations allows Levinson to make a strong critical statement about modern life—as the years press on, the family dissipates and fragments, and the ever-present television slowly takes pride of place, edging out conversation and family intimacy. Armin Mueller-Stahl, Aidan Quinn, and Elijah Wood make up the three levels of fathers and sons.