Indie princeling David Gordon Green has now made three films since "George Washington," his sublime sliver of a directorial debut: "All the Real Girls" and "Undertow," both half-formed works filled with great ideas, and now "Snow Angels," which trades in some of the beveled brilliance of his earlier work for coherence and consistency. It’s his most solid film to date, and the best we’ve seen in this solid festival of solid films ready to be sold for what will hopefully be a solid profit.
No such fate yet for "Snow Angels," though, a tougher sell. It could be described as an exploration of a small-town tragedy, the headline of a regional paper, but that would hardly encompass all of its strands of Chekhovian love and loss. The film begins and eventually finds its end on a snowy football field, where a high school marching band struggles through its routine. One of the band members, Arthur (Michael Angarano) is experiencing the lows of his parents’ separation and the highs of his first great romance. The girl, Lila (Olivia Thirlby), has come out to watch. Out in the woods, there’s the sound of a gun shot.
"Snow Angels" swirls around two broken families â€” that of Arthur and that of Annie (Kate Beckinsale), his former babysitter, the prettiest girl in the neighborhood grown up into a harried single mom pulling double shifts as a waitress at the local Chinese restaurant. She’s begun building back a tentatively cordial relationship with her husband Glenn, (Sam Rockwell), whose troubles we learn more about as the film progresses. The role of Glenn is a star-making one for Rockwell, should the film ever make it to theaters â€” a recovering alcoholic desperately seeking refuge in evangelical Christianity, Glenn is alternately pathetic and terrifying, too earnest and well-meaning for anyone to turn him away despite his inability to save himself from himself. Annie is willing to let him see their young daughter, but is turning a blind eye to his hopes of their getting back together â€” she’s begun an ill-advised affair with her best friend’s husband Nate (Nicky Katt), and when Glenn discovers this fact, he sets about on the business of seriously falling apart.
Green has a wonderfully tender touch with his characters, and is a master of unguarded moments of profound, fumbling dialogue â€” dismiss it as an indie fixation if you will, but a few scenes in which Arthur and Annie, who’ve known each other for years and whose relationship has developed an edge of flirtation, sit and talk about nothing in particular have a warmth rarely seen in any movie. Likewise, Arthur’s romance with the hip and forthright Lila unfolds in achingly sweet steps: "I like you so much, and I made it so clear," she tells him (sometimes, we suppose, it has to be that easy). And Glenn, who starts drinking again, has a night in a local dive that ends with him swaying in the embrace of another drunk in an impromptu slow dance. It’s such a sympathetic and poetic portrait of misery that it earns what could have been an easy visual jab â€” the presence of a birthday cake, inexplicable and alight, sitting on a pinball machine behind them. On its side, it reads: "The Champ."
+ "Snow Angels" (Sundance)