Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: The Playroom

Sensitively wrought family drama told from the children’s perspective.

Feb 7, 2013

-By Frank Scheck


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1371218-Playroom_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

A rare example of a grown-up story compellingly told from the perspective of children, The Playroom is a modest gem. This ’70s-set drama depicting one tumultuous night in a suburban family’s lives benefits from the admirably subtle approach by director Julia Dyer, working from a sensitive screenplay penned by her late sister Gretchen, with their brother Stephen serving as one of the producers. Unlike the dysfunctional one depicted onscreen, this family unit works together perfectly.

The title refers to the where the Cantwell children—teenage Maggie (Olivia Harris) and younger siblings Christian (Jonathon McClendon), Janie (Alexandra Doke) and Sam (Ian Veteto)—gather to tell each other stories by candlelight.

When their parents return home one night, it soon becomes apparent that the family dynamics are frayed, with the mother Donna (Molly Parker) clearly a heavy drinker and father Martin (John Hawkes) affectionate but distracted. Still, everything seems normal enough, with Martin even conducting an impromptu spelling bee during dinner.

It isn’t until the arrival of another couple (Jonathan Brooks and Lydia Mackay) for a night of cards and drinks that things begin to unravel, with Maggie catching her mother passionately kissing the family friend and the evening devolving into loud, drunken arguments and a physical altercation. These events are mostly fleetingly observed through the eyes of the children, who are otherwise preoccupying themselves with games and horseplay, including Christian accidentally falling off the roof into the pool, an event his oblivious parents fail to notice.

The film beautifully captures both the innocent bafflement of the younger children about the adults’ behavior and the cynical teenage perspective of Maggie, who has just lost her virginity that day.

There are a couple of too-clever ironic touches. The film is set on the day of Patty Hearst’s capture, with Maggie obviously relating to the fugitive heiress. And when she has sex with her boyfriend in the family garage, there’s a cut to a shot of one of the children threading a needle. What, no tunnel going through a train?

But these are small quibbles about an otherwise quietly moving and well-wrought drama marked by superb performances, including newcomer Harris in her screen acting debut. And it’s a pleasure to watch Hawkes ( The Sessions, Winter’s Bone) solidly deliver the goods.
The Hollywood Reporter


Film Review: The Playroom

Sensitively wrought family drama told from the children’s perspective.

Feb 7, 2013

-By Frank Scheck


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1371218-Playroom_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

A rare example of a grown-up story compellingly told from the perspective of children, The Playroom is a modest gem. This ’70s-set drama depicting one tumultuous night in a suburban family’s lives benefits from the admirably subtle approach by director Julia Dyer, working from a sensitive screenplay penned by her late sister Gretchen, with their brother Stephen serving as one of the producers. Unlike the dysfunctional one depicted onscreen, this family unit works together perfectly.

The title refers to the where the Cantwell children—teenage Maggie (Olivia Harris) and younger siblings Christian (Jonathon McClendon), Janie (Alexandra Doke) and Sam (Ian Veteto)—gather to tell each other stories by candlelight.

When their parents return home one night, it soon becomes apparent that the family dynamics are frayed, with the mother Donna (Molly Parker) clearly a heavy drinker and father Martin (John Hawkes) affectionate but distracted. Still, everything seems normal enough, with Martin even conducting an impromptu spelling bee during dinner.

It isn’t until the arrival of another couple (Jonathan Brooks and Lydia Mackay) for a night of cards and drinks that things begin to unravel, with Maggie catching her mother passionately kissing the family friend and the evening devolving into loud, drunken arguments and a physical altercation. These events are mostly fleetingly observed through the eyes of the children, who are otherwise preoccupying themselves with games and horseplay, including Christian accidentally falling off the roof into the pool, an event his oblivious parents fail to notice.

The film beautifully captures both the innocent bafflement of the younger children about the adults’ behavior and the cynical teenage perspective of Maggie, who has just lost her virginity that day.

There are a couple of too-clever ironic touches. The film is set on the day of Patty Hearst’s capture, with Maggie obviously relating to the fugitive heiress. And when she has sex with her boyfriend in the family garage, there’s a cut to a shot of one of the children threading a needle. What, no tunnel going through a train?

But these are small quibbles about an otherwise quietly moving and well-wrought drama marked by superb performances, including newcomer Harris in her screen acting debut. And it’s a pleasure to watch Hawkes (The Sessions, Winter’s Bone) solidly deliver the goods.
The Hollywood Reporter
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

The Congress
Film Review: The Congress

Part live-action, part cornea-searing animation, this cinematic overload is ambitious but ultimately fatigues as it plays with the intriguing notion of a fading Hollywood star selling rights so her cyberspace avatar can rise to superstardom and stay forever young in virtual reality. Flashy animation and cynical stabs at celebrity culture and movie-studio finagling keep things lively for a while. More »

The Last of Robin Hood
Film Review: The Last of Robin Hood

Serviceable vehicle for a salacious story. More »

Last Weekend
Film Review: Last Weekend

A sort of modern Chekhovian study of family tensions over a country weekend, this indie drama is very pretty to look at and at times disarming, but needed more punch. More »

The Notebook
Film Review: The Notebook

An aloof adaptation of Agota Kristof's best-seller that's technically impressive but precludes audience identification. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Film Review: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Neither significantly better nor worse than its predecessor, the belated Sin City sequel is more of a repeat, rather than a continuation, of the original. More »

If I Stay
Film Review: If I Stay

Delivers as promised. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here