Taken as either a good thing or bad (your choice) no one does small town angst better than David Gordon Green. Well, perhaps David Lynch or the Coen Brothers, but then we're talking a whole other stratosphere and it probably isn't fair to compare Lynch or even the Coens with the mere mortals of modern filmmaking, so let's just leave it at nobody (mortal) does small town angst better than David Gordon Green. And with his latest, Snow Angels, Green has for better of for worse, small town angst coming out the yin yang. The only real problem Green has now is measuring up to his brilliant 2000 debut film George Washington.
Perhaps not to the dramatic, even iconic heights of Welles downfall after creating a masterpiece his first time out of the gate (no matter how astonishing Welles' films were after Kane - and they all were from start to inevitable finish - he would never duplicate the raw genius of Kane) Green nonetheless has very possibly sealed the same undeserved fate for himself. Not that George Washington is Citizen Kane nor is All the Real Girls or Undertow equal to The Magnificent Ambersons or The Lady from Shanghai, and Snow Angels is certainly no Touch of Evil, but still, albeit to a much lesser degree than Welles, Green has created for himself a career that despite future good works could very well be chock full of inevitable film maudits.
Critical prophesying aside, Snow Angels, the interlocking story of two marriages in different states of decay and the inevitable (and very obvious) tragedy that spews out of its ultimately blackened flagitious center, is noticeably inferior to most of Green's previous work (his two best films, George Washington and All the Real Girls have the mannerisms of Malick at their meandering middles) but still manages, despite its overt obviousness and misplaced schmaltz, and with the help of a powerfully "real" sounding script, reading lines as if their own imperfect words are spewing forth (and still a bit of malick to be seen and felt within its quiet cobwebbed corners), to hold itself together long enough to fascinate - or at least rivet one's attention with its yin yang full of small town angst - for its allotted 106 minutes (or at least, thanks to a somewhat trite tag-on coda, 103 minutes).
And despite its flaws, Snow Angels is strongly performed by all - Sam Rockwell may go a bit over the top and Kate Beckinsale, showing she can actually be more than just the hot chick fighting monsters in skin tight outfits, has the rather strange problem of being too attractive to fit in with the otherwise realistic cadence of the story - it is the youngest members of the cast that truly shine. Michael Angarano, known mostly for his role as Jack's sperm-donated son on Will & Grace, and Olivia Thirlby, Juno's best friend in last year's over-hyped and Oscar nominated teen pregnancy confectionary, as two nerdy teens caught in the middle of the film's tragic events allow themselves to be seen as exactly what they (and most teenagers) are, vulnerable and insecure. And they do it all without all the hipster blogspeak that was so annoyingly quippy in the aforementioned Juno. It is these two performances more than any other that make Green's film resonate with the real of everyday.
Desperate and perhaps quite pedestrian behind its stunningly simple photography, Snow Angels is nevertheless a film that holds out hope for its lonely auteur, if only he can escape his own man-made curse and over relience on small town angst. Overall the film succeeds (for the most part) despite itself, and though that be be seen as nothing more than sheer cinematic luck befallen upon the filmmaker, it could very well show a spark that another George Washington or All the Real Girls is somewhere inside there just waiting to spring loose on American independant cinema. [04/17/08]