Directed by: David Auburn
Written by: David Auburn
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Kate Bosworth, Alessandro Nivola, Elias Koteas, Keri Russell, David Rasche
Released: 2007 / Genre: Drama / Country: USA / IMDB
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If you liked The Girl in the Park also check out: The Changeling / Last Chance Harvey
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Sigourney Weaver gives a quietly restrained but intimately powerful performance in David Auburn’s directorial debut The Girl in the Park. Weaver plays Julia Sandburg, a successful middle-class mother living in New York. She has all the trappings of the perfect American Dream – two kids, husband, a singing career and an album release. But it’s all taken away from her when, on a trip to the local park, her three year old daughter Maggie disappears. Where some films would take the audience on a frantic search for the lost child, the police investigation, the familial heartbreak and unwarranted accusations, the discovery of a suspect, and a few red herrings, Auburn fades to black and soundlessly reintroduces us to Julia 16 years later. Still suffering from the consequences of that day, Julia has separated from her husband and become disillusioned with both her life and the life of her remaining child, her son Chris (Alessandro Nivola). Having lived away from the city for many years Julia’s return due to work commitments only heightens her anxiety. With Chris getting married and about to have a child, Julia struggles to integrate herself back into family life.
Then she meets Louise (Kate Bosworth), a scheming blonde she feels sympathy for after seeing her argue with a boyfriend. Inadvertently helping Louise steal sunglasses from a local store, Julia’s guilt forces her to ignore Louise’s passionate gratitude. Eventually, Louise encourages Julia to have a drink and tells her she needs money because she is pregnant and has to return home. Julia, her mothering instincts returning, gives the girl $700. Later, she finds Louise in a bar spending the money. After an altercation, Julia is removed from the establishment. Louise turns up on her doorstep, apologetic, and offering to return the money. They begin to form an unlikely friendship. At first the loss of Julia’s daughter drives her need to care and support the embittered but worldly Louise but as their relationship grows it becomes clear Louise could indeed be her daughter.
The Girl in the Park takes the child abduction concept and focuses on the long-term effects such devastating events can have on the lives of those involved. In some ways Dustin Hoffman would play the male version of Weaver’s Julia a year later in Last Chance Harvey. Both films concern themselves with the reintegration of a parent into the lives of their adult children. The scene in The Girl in the Park where Julia makes a speech at a dinner to celebrate the marriage of her son with his new wife is very reminiscent of Harvey’s attempts at his daughter’s wedding reception. The two films differ in their tales of middle-age self-discovery with their interpretations of love: one is romantic; one is parental.
Much of Auburn’s film hinges on the idea that Louise is Julia’s daughter. He throws a few clues into the mix but Julia’s lack of direct questioning when she genuinely believes this girl could be her grown-up daughter is exhausting. Obviously, Julia wants to extend the myth, if indeed it is a myth, for as long as possible because her burgeoning newfound friendship is helping to lay some of her ghosts to rest. And Weaver carries it well. She is assured as a mother weathered by years of psychological torment, her intermittent moments of outward anxiety an indication of her frailty as well as her courage. Kate Bosworth is also perfectly cast as the wayward, troublesome young girl. Auburn confidently avoids many self-discovery clichés as the two lost souls begin to find their way in life. But if you strip the film of its key enigma – is Louise Julia’s grown-up daughter? – the film loses much of its drive.
The city is a bland and distant backdrop to the story, much in the same way Auburn’s camera follows the action as if it were a low-grade soap opera. I liked the cold, green and grey hues of the shot beginning the story 16 years after the child’s disappearance, but Auburn quickly abandons the bleak colour scheme and moments later we’re in the warmly textured apartment of a family party. So despite some spirited performances, the is-she-isn’t-she revelation we are all longing for is the only spark in an otherwise predictable family drama.
David Auburn’s debut as a director (he has previously written Proof and The Lake House) is a solidly constructed drama that never rises above mediocrity. Although the performances are delivered with hearty determination, the characters lack intensity and their relationships offer little humour to light what is effectively a bleak tale of human loss and regret. Auburn, unacceptably, leaves a sub-plot involving Julia’s sexual relationship with Raymond (Elias Koteas) unfulfilled having initially thrust it upon us as an after-thought. The film is worth seeing for another strong turn from Sigourney Weaver (sans blue suit and the other worldly trappings of Pandora) but after the film sheds its mystery there is no need for a second helping.
Review by Daniel Stephens