Bill (Harry Chase), a divorced, middle-aged man, lives alone in a quiet town, and works as a voice-over artist from a soundproof booth inside his house. He’s lonely and has emotional scars, so he desperately wants to reconnect with his estranged daughter which he tries to do via the phone. His closest friend seems to be Omar (Kamel Boutros), a delivery man. Their rapport when he invites him to get a tour of his booth—while wearing undies as usual—is slightly witty and amusing. The same can be said for the initial rapport between Gordon (Nate Smith) and Debby (Sabrina Lloyd), a young woman who he meets on an internet dating site. Both of them agree to meet up for a hot night of sex, but little do they know that it will turn into serious relationship with a tragic twist that threatens to destroy the magic between them. Meanwhile, Eleanor (Lynn Cohen), a widow in her golden years, find herself in a surprising romance with Gary (James Urbaniak), her neighbor, who drives her around town because she can no longer drive given her poor eyesight.
Writer/director Adam Reid has woven three narratives into one that offers a mixed bag of tenderness and contrivances that explore the themes of love, sadness and yearning without enough depth. The tragedy that befalls Debby, which won’t be spoiled here, feels so tacked-on and unimaginative that you’ll find yourself rolling your eyes more often than not because it’s a tragedy that’s often used in narratives to try to bring out your tears. No tears will probably be shed here because neither Debby nor Gordon is a well-developed character. In yet another plot device that feels too forced, Bill finds himself accidentally locked inside his booth where he might die of dehydration or suffocation if no on discovers him soon. The only narrative thread that works is the poignant one between Eleanor and Gary because the dynamics of their relationship are drawn own organically and with sensitivity, sans any contrived plot devices that would take away the realism. It’s worth mentioning, though, that Reid doesn’t commit the worst act of contrivance which would be to have all of the characters if the three narratives somehow meet up at the end. At a running time of 1 hour and 31 minutes, Hello Lonesome is marginally engrossing and witty, yet somewhat contrived and lacking in depth.
Tied to a Chair
The Tree of Life
Jack O’Brien (Sean Penn), a middle-aged architect, feels haunted by the death of his older brother, R.L. (Laramie Eppler), who died at the age of 19. As he grapples with the emotional pain, he recalls his memories as a child and teenager growing up with R.L., his younger brother, Steve (Tye Sheridan) and parents (Jessica Chastain and Brad Pitt) in Waco, Texas during the 1950’s. His father was a tough, domineering man who never fulfilled his dreams of becoming a pianist; his mother was kind and gentle. Little by little, vignette by vignette, you learn more about the dynamics of the O’Brien family, but, concurrently, there are more questions than answers to be found here. The opening scene’s quote from the Book of Job helps to provide an overview of the film’s thematic elements as does the voice-over narration where the mother states that there are two ways through life: the way of nature, and the way of grace.
Had writer/director Terrence Malick chosen the conventional approach to tackling the themes in The Tree of Life by spoon-feeding the audience with an easy-to-follow narrative, it would have been criticized for being too cliché and familiar. Instead, he takes an approach that’s concurrently elliptical, spiritual, infused with symbolism, and awe-inspiring on a purely visceral level. The picturesque images of nature coupled with the enchanting musical score create an experience that cannot be adequately explained merely through words. Malick leaves the narrative of the O’Brien family wafer-thin, thereby demanding a lot from the audience because it leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Patient audience members will be able to tolerate that effort for 2 hours and 18 minutes, but others will most likely become frustrated and exhausted after the first hour.
The Tree of Life leaves you with a lot of heavy topics to thinking about and discuss, such as grief, love, grace, the purpose of life, death, true happiness and hope. Each of these is an important issue that can be easily ignored throughout the hustle-and-bustle of today’s technology-centric world. If you watch the film and feel confused by it, perhaps a second viewing would help or perhaps you’ll see it in a whole new perspective at another stage of your life and will only be able to appreciate it or understand it then. Nonetheless, The Tree of Life manages to be a mesmerizing experience filled with breathtaking sights and sounds. It’s much like life itself: visceral, enigmatic, spiritual, profound and simply complex.