Carol Shields comes to the big screen

Robert Moyes tells us which new movies are worth watching and which aren't

Canada’s Pulitzer Prize-winning author Carol Shields wrote many novels and plays over a productive life, and her final novel, Unless, has just been adapted for the screen by writer-director Alan Gilsenan. The film opens with the crystalline language of Shields, via a voiceover spoken by Catherine Keener (Capote, Being John Malkovich), who stars as Reta, a successful novelist and translator whose life gets thrown into chaos when her eldest daughter, Norah (Hannah Gross), drops out of college and becomes a mute panhandler on the streets of Toronto. Draped in thrift-shop blankets she sits cross-legged outside of Honest Ed’s with a sign that says “Goodness.” It’s a protest, but against what?After presenting the irony of a woman who makes a living through the use of language finding that words have unexpectedly become useless, the story delves into the raw emotional world of a family trying to cope with a heart-wounding challenge. Reta and her partner, Tom (Matt Craven, X-Men: First Class) sometimes sit with their daughter in solidarity; in other scenes they try to deal with the often insensitive questions and clumsy advice of friends and colleagues. Possible reasons for Norah’s existential crisis are hinted at as TVs in the background feature news of violent political turmoil in distant countries, or when the sales signs plastered all over the façade of Honest Ed’s temple to modern consumerism provide their own crass cacophony.A wise old friend of Reta’s suggests that Norah is expressing an “impotent, elegant piety.” Reta then interrogates her own life, which is full of serious work and bourgeois pleasures and accomplishments, but maybe not much actual goodness. Or maybe Nora’s “insight” simply means that she might be better off institutionalized.Known mostly for playing quirky roles, the under-celebrated Keener is a supremely gifted actor and she brings luminous warmth to her performance as the anguished and thoughtful Reta. Ably buoyed by a fine cast — including Downton Abbey’s Brendan Coyle as Reta’s superficially supportive but poisonously self-interested editor – Unless shows that profound emotional truths can be found in something as seemingly ordinary as a middle class family.UNLESS ★★★ 1/2NOTE: Playing at UVic’s Cinecenta from October 28 to November 5.Stars Catherine Keener, Matt CravenDirected by Alan Gilsenan

COMING SOON:La La LandOne of the most popular films to emerge from TIFF, this romantic musical comedy-drama stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as a jazz pianist and an aspiring actress whose love affair starts to fray due to professional pressures.

ArrivalThere’s already Oscar buzz around this aliens-make-contact sci-fi thriller that stars Amy Adams as a linguist brought in by the military to facilitate a chat with Earth’s new arrivals. Directed by Quebec’s great Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners).

Hacksaw RidgeMel Gibson directs a true-life drama about a conscientious objector who was initially reviled for his pacifism, but went on to be revered for his incredible, life-saving bravery during the Battle of Okinawa. Starring Andrew Garfield.

FencesDenzel Washington directs himself in this adaptation of a play by the revered August Wilson that chronicles the black experience in 20th century America. With Viola Davis.

SilenceSuperb director Martin Scorsese will gets lots of attention for this historical drama about two Portuguese Jesuit missionaries who return to 17th century Japan to minister to Christians who have been outlawed. Starring Liam Neeson and Adam Driver.

 

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