This is the second of three parts of a Versus review. For the first part, my review of Revolutionary Road, please go here.
Snow Angels is a very tough film for me to review. One side of me wants me to succumb to it, let my grievances go, and just accept it and enjoy it for what it is. The other side of me is the pedantic, critical, cold-hearted bastard who can't get over the serious flaws Snow Angels has, and to be honest they're flaws that I simply can't overlook. I don't want to dislike this movie, I really don't. I want to like it, but there are just blockades stopping me from doing so, which is even more saddening for me because Snow Angels is a genuinely well-made film.
Set in a consistently snowy small town, Snow Angels primarily tells the story of three couples. The couple that gets the most focus are the Marchands, composed of Annie and Glenn, played by Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell respectively, and their young daughter Tara. Glenn is a recovering alcoholic, who has turned to Christianity and is attempting to prove to his wife he has changed in the hopes he can see more of their daughter. Meanwhile, Annie is having an affair with her best friend Barb's husband Nate. With the town being so small, Snow Angels concentrates on how the lives of these characters interact and cross with one another.
The set-up for Snow Angels is something I was actually fairly interested in. What I love are stories that are built on characters, because without characters any story is redundant. Someone could create the most brilliantly paced, clever and narratively sound story, but it wouldn't be worth a thing unless the audience had something to grab onto to allow themselves to be engrossed in the story, and the items used for the audience to relate to the story will always be the characters. Snow Angels partially succeeds in this regard, with the characters being well-rounded enough for the audience to care about them. There are two distinct problems with them though. One of them we'll get to shortly, but the first is simply that some of the characters aren't all that likable. In a film like Snow Angels, which is so heavily based on emotion, it really hurts the movie when some of the characters actually started to annoy me, with Annie being a particular thorn in my side. She's well developed, as are all the characters, but she has no real positive qualities to her at all. While this could work, it takes away a great amount of pathos and feeling, and she actually started to feel more like a narrative device than an actual person, due to some of her actions and reactions to such.
I also took issues with Glenn, who I feel is far, far too stereotypical character for this kind of movie. The whole 'former alcoholic who is now a Christian' thing has been used literally dozens of times before, and to varying effect. While it still could have been successful, if there had been a twist on the character or he had simply been exceptionally well-written, it simply isn't. He's competently written, certainly, and Sam Rockwell gives it all in a very good performance, but he still doesn't feel all that special, and the character is completely let down by an ending that is disastrous.
Ah yes, the ending. There is no way I would be able to write any form of perspective on this movie without at least mentioning the ending. The ending is simply awful, and while I'll try and skip around specific details, I will try and outline the reason I feel it fails, so take this as a spoiler warning. Snow Angels ends in an incredibly emotionally manipulative way, and one of the things I can't stand in movies is when the film-makers forcefully try and make the audience feel something, and they normally do that with a singular event. The reason I don't like it is because it never feels organic and almost always feels like a clunky gear shift for the sake of shock value, and in Snow Angels this is very much the case. There is an action taken by a particular character that doesn't fit with their motif and an acceptance by another character that suffers the exact same problem. The ending is simply in place for shock value, to try and add more pathos to the story, and it fails because the ending simply doesn't work. It's too heavy-handed, and what's worse the ending doesn't convey any kind of message; it actually just conveys a very false level of depth. None of the themes are touched upon to the extent they should be. No conclusions are really made. Is love bad? Does all love end in tragedy? The film doesn't give any valid conclusion to any of its themes, and I almost completely blame the ending for that. It's a cheap shot at making the audience feel something, and to give the film a greater degree of pathos, but it falls completely flat because it isn't earned. There's not a satisfactory build-up and the conclusion of the film provides no depth to any of the vague themes the film presents.
There are other problems with the story, and they mainly have to do with the fact I simply felt like director David Gordon Green was trying far too hard to push my emotions in the direction he wanted. Along with the ending, there is a scene involving Tara that is very clearly supposed to be upsetting and distressing but once again it doesn't work, because it's not an event that feels earned. It just becomes tragedy for tragedies sake.
It's such a shame that these problems drag the movie down so much, because on a technical level it's very well-made. The cinematography is beautiful, and all of the acting is of an incredibly high standard. David Gordon Green does have an aptitude for writing dialogue, with the interactions between characters at the very least believable at all times, with a few minor slip ups concerining lines I feel he thought were poignant, but come off as kinda silly. All this is marred by the narrative and how the film is presented to us. It just tries too hard to be shocking and bleak, in an attempt to milk emotion from the viewer, and none of the events that take place fall into the film smoothly due to their unearned nature. At the same time, I can't bring myself to not recommend Snow Angels simply because I know people do love it and while I disagree with their thoughts, I can almost see where they're coming from. However, for me, Snow Angels simply doesn't work on an emotional level because it tries far too hard to.
One of the images is broken.
Okay, time for another Marter's $0.02.
Here are what seem to be the 3 biggest complaints you had about the film, and why I don't really think they are valid. Anyway, it's all opinion, and while I state it as fact, (because I'm not going to write "IMO" all throughout), don't take it as such. Anyway...
There certainly were "likeable characters", you just didn't mention them. Arthur and Lila being the prime examples, but also with the character of Barb. The two teenagers actually are the "hope" of the film. Sure, it is depressing for the most part, but there is hope as well; just not enough of it. That is the biggest flaw in my opinion. It is a very sad movie.
As for the characters that are unlikeable, that's kind of the point. They aren't meant to be likeable. In fact, sympathizing with Glenn seemed to be the intention of the filmmakers. You see how his life was destroyed by Annie. Or at least, he felt that way. He couldn't let her go, and attempted suicide because of it. He turned to the bottle, I believe, before this happened, and then turned to Christianity after his attempt.
At this point, he's a new Christian, and not quite getting it. He seems to be more engrossed with the stories than he is with the actual religion. He doesn't *get* it, and believes that turning to God will just solve all his problems. It's like he goes, "Okay, I'll turn to You, so nothing I do can be wrong any more". His alcoholism is his biggest flaw throughout, and is something he cannot shake. You sympathize with him because you can see that he is trying, but then you hate him for not being able to. Tara's death just made his problem a whole lot worse.
I think that Tara's death was actually really important to the plot of the rest of the film. It, first and foremost, changed Glenn. It changed him into more of an antagonist, and attempted to make you care more for Annie, despite her flaws and...indiscretions earlier in the film.
Every character, in one way or another, is impacted by Tara's death. It was an accident. It's not like a character killed her or anything. It also shows another flaw in Annie, which is directly contrasted afterwards.
Awful ending, doesn't fit with character:
I actually loved the ending. I thought it fit perfectly with the rest of the film, and what leads up to it. Glenn, who at this point believes himself to be someone working for God. That's why he washed her feet, saying that he forgave her for Tara's death. He still made her walk barefoot though, as he wanted to make her feel the pain, a similar pain to what he felt after she died.
As for why Annie didn't even put up a fight...it almost seemed like she was done with life. She didn't care anymore. She lost her daughter, the man she used to love and the man she was cheating with. She just didn't have it in her anymore, so she just let him end her.
Yes, it is emotionally draining, but I didn't take it as manipulative at all. How else could it have ended? I don't see another way that would be meaningful at all. It was also foreshadowed throughout the film, with the gunshots at the beginning and Glenn's dialogue "I'm not a dangerous person".
As for it not having a conclusion...it does. It doesn't even end on a sad note. It ends on a happy one! The teenagers come together at the end, as do Arthur's parents, who had been fighting for most of the film. That's happy! It gives hope, a hope that had been shot just minutes earlier.
At the same time, I strongly not to recommend Snow Angels simply because I know people do love it and while I disagree with their thoughts, I can almost see where they're coming from.
I don't get that sentence. I thought perhaps you meant you do not recommend it, but the latter of the sentence suggests otherwise.
I didn't think this movie was bad, by any means, while watching it... until the ending. I ju-... it just... it was excessive, and shocking, but something I did not foresee, at all, which I think is a huge problem. To pull of an ending like that you need to make sure the audience can empathize with their actions, which wasn't the case.
I also found Beckinsale's character to be ridiculously annoying. She didn't have many (shown) qualities to make me feel otherwise. I suppose that, at the very least, means she did a good job playing her part, right?
Right-o! Great review Fargo, as always. Looking forward to tomorrow's vs. review/comparison.
Edit: Why in the hell are Marter and I the only ones who have posted in here? I find this unacceptable.
Oddly enough, despite how much I liked this film, I agree with you on a lot of the aspects here.
It's just that the issues you had with it that still existed for me didn't seem to affect me nearly as much. At any rate, yes I will agree that Beckinsale's character was just ridiculously annoying. She's the type of person who just had no redeeming qualities and that was the main issue I had with the film.
I felt like I was supposed to feel for this complete bitch of a person. Sorry, but I really just couldn't.
Great review, Fargo, as always!!