Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: Return

A modest, observant film about a mother’s troubled return home after a tour of duty in the Middle East.

Feb 9, 2012

-By Todd McCarthy


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1309128-Return_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

Another small-scale American indie about a vet returning home from the Middle East, Return has quiet virtues and the distinction of focusing closely on one particular woman’s difficulty readjusting to being a wife and mother. This first feature by Liza Johnson, an artist who has made five shorts, traps the viewer, along with its subject, in the drudgery of daily life and maintains the same low-key tone throughout. But its observational qualities do open a window on a female viewing exposure, which should translate into limited specialized commercial and home-viewing exposure.

Returning to small-town, working-class Ohio after serving in a resupply unit at an unspecified overseas location, National Reservist Kelli (Linda Cardellini) is welcomed home by plumber husband Mike (Michael Shannon) and two young daughters. With little ado and no discussion of what it was like for her over there, Kelli resumes her boring job at a warehouse and goes out drinking with her girlfriends, who are also not only boring but annoyingly inane.

It’s just little things at first that suggest Kelli’s sense of dislocation: She uses the f-word in front of kids, she listens to bass-heavy boom-box music while driving the kids around and has no patience to just sit around watching reality TV while eating junk food. One easily infers that, after a year of sharpened focus and a heightened sense of purpose, it’s impossible for her to just settle into the way things used to be.

As her disconnect becomes more pronounced, Kelli abruptly quits her job with no explanation. When she discovers Mike has been having an affair, they move apart and share custody of the girls, which subsequently tilts in Mike’s favor when Kelli is nailed with a DUI and has her license suspended. Once she falls into a genuine tailspin, the only options are crashing or pulling out of it; helping initially with the latter is a slightly nutty recluse (John Slattery, in an amusing change-of-pace role), who rescues Kelli from the banality of their AA group with a manly offering of self-shot venison, booze and sex in his rustic cabin.

Without extensively going into what Kelli experienced on her tour of duty—her catch-all response to that question is “A lot of people had it a lot worse than I did”—Johnson is able to suggest that, even if Kelli didn’t see real action or suffer any physical trauma, she’s no longer the same person she was; too many things happened to her mentally and emotionally for her to reconcile herself with her previous life.

A great deal rides on Cardellini’s performance, as she’s on camera almost continuously and in very close proximity to it at that. Very attractive but not too much so to be believable in this everyday context, she delivers by keeping you interested no matter how mundane the activity Kelli is performing. It’s a wholehearted performance, but not in an actressy way. Shannon plays it absolutely straight for once.

One significant drawback is that, although one is aware of their presence, the two daughters are characterized almost as an afterthought; when the older one is finally given a bit to do in the final stages, it’s obvious this is far too little and too late. Surely the welfare of her young girls would be the first thing on a long-absent mother’s mind both while away and once she’s back, but this realm is far too sketchily dealt with.

Anne Etheridge’s mobile cinematography maintains a watchful air of intimacy with Kelli in this film of modest ambition and achievement.
The Hollywood Reporter



Film Review: Return

A modest, observant film about a mother’s troubled return home after a tour of duty in the Middle East.

Feb 9, 2012

-By Todd McCarthy


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1309128-Return_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

Another small-scale American indie about a vet returning home from the Middle East, Return has quiet virtues and the distinction of focusing closely on one particular woman’s difficulty readjusting to being a wife and mother. This first feature by Liza Johnson, an artist who has made five shorts, traps the viewer, along with its subject, in the drudgery of daily life and maintains the same low-key tone throughout. But its observational qualities do open a window on a female viewing exposure, which should translate into limited specialized commercial and home-viewing exposure.

Returning to small-town, working-class Ohio after serving in a resupply unit at an unspecified overseas location, National Reservist Kelli (Linda Cardellini) is welcomed home by plumber husband Mike (Michael Shannon) and two young daughters. With little ado and no discussion of what it was like for her over there, Kelli resumes her boring job at a warehouse and goes out drinking with her girlfriends, who are also not only boring but annoyingly inane.

It’s just little things at first that suggest Kelli’s sense of dislocation: She uses the f-word in front of kids, she listens to bass-heavy boom-box music while driving the kids around and has no patience to just sit around watching reality TV while eating junk food. One easily infers that, after a year of sharpened focus and a heightened sense of purpose, it’s impossible for her to just settle into the way things used to be.

As her disconnect becomes more pronounced, Kelli abruptly quits her job with no explanation. When she discovers Mike has been having an affair, they move apart and share custody of the girls, which subsequently tilts in Mike’s favor when Kelli is nailed with a DUI and has her license suspended. Once she falls into a genuine tailspin, the only options are crashing or pulling out of it; helping initially with the latter is a slightly nutty recluse (John Slattery, in an amusing change-of-pace role), who rescues Kelli from the banality of their AA group with a manly offering of self-shot venison, booze and sex in his rustic cabin.

Without extensively going into what Kelli experienced on her tour of duty—her catch-all response to that question is “A lot of people had it a lot worse than I did”—Johnson is able to suggest that, even if Kelli didn’t see real action or suffer any physical trauma, she’s no longer the same person she was; too many things happened to her mentally and emotionally for her to reconcile herself with her previous life.

A great deal rides on Cardellini’s performance, as she’s on camera almost continuously and in very close proximity to it at that. Very attractive but not too much so to be believable in this everyday context, she delivers by keeping you interested no matter how mundane the activity Kelli is performing. It’s a wholehearted performance, but not in an actressy way. Shannon plays it absolutely straight for once.

One significant drawback is that, although one is aware of their presence, the two daughters are characterized almost as an afterthought; when the older one is finally given a bit to do in the final stages, it’s obvious this is far too little and too late. Surely the welfare of her young girls would be the first thing on a long-absent mother’s mind both while away and once she’s back, but this realm is far too sketchily dealt with.

Anne Etheridge’s mobile cinematography maintains a watchful air of intimacy with Kelli in this film of modest ambition and achievement.
The Hollywood Reporter
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

War Story
Film Review: War Story

Infuriatingly slow, enervating and basically empty contemplation of war's impact, and a waste of the formidable talent of a gallant Catherine Keener. More »

Happy Christmas
Film Review: Happy Christmas

Joe Swanberg's latest feature is a collection of strong individual scenes and performances that never quite finds its statement of purpose. More »

Very Good Girls
Film Review: Very Good Girls

More of a meandering, misguided path than a road to hell, Naomi Foner’s directing debut, starring Dakota Fanning and Elizabeth Olsen as 18-year-old BFFs, is similarly filled with good intentions. More »

The Kill Team
Film Review: The Kill Team

Marine Adam Winfield goes on trial in a case in which U.S. soldiers murdered innocent Afghanis. Strong subject marred by poor narrative choices. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Get On Up
Film Review: Get On Up

Chadwick Boseman is sensational in this multi-faceted portrait of troubled, pioneering soul-music giant James Brown. More »

Guardians of the Galaxy review
Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

With Marvel’s backing, cult filmmaker James Gunn blasts off for the stars and takes audiences along for a wild, funny ride. 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