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Sunday, May 13, 2012

TARA ROAD -- movie review by porfle




(NOTE: This review originally appeared online in 2005.)

"Sometimes you must lose your life to find a new one."  Oh, brother...

What do you do when your life falls apart around you?  Well, if you're Marilyn (Andie MacDowell), a well-to-do New England wife who's feeling estranged from her husband after their teenaged son gets killed during his 15th birthday party, and Ria (Olivia Williams), an Irish mother of two who just found out that not only is she pregnant again, but so is her husband's mistress...

...you swap houses.  Yes, that's the gimmick that TARA ROAD (2005) uses to take these two hapless women on an emotional journey of self-discovery and all that stuff.  After a handy plot contrivance, Marilyn ends up in Ria's house in Dublin and Ria leaves her kids with her cheating husband and his girlfriend and whisks off to New England to move into Marilyn's house.  But they're not just swapping houses, they're swapping lives.  And learning about themselves...and growing, and...excuse me, I think I'm gonna barf...

First of all, Ria's a wuss.  Her husband Danny (Iain Glen) makes his shocking announcement--you know, about his girlfriend being pregnant and whatnot--and all she can do is desperately clutch at him and practically beg him to stay with her.  Marilyn, on the other hand, is a cold fish who has a faithful husband who loves her, yet she rejects him because she's so wrapped up in her own self-pity.  In one early scene, she's so upset about the loss of their son that she even knocks her glass of iced tea off the table while sitting by the pool.  So these two women damn well better learn about themselves and grow and all that stuff during this movie, or I'm really gonna be ticked off.

When we see them wandering through each other's houses, it's supposed to be a meaningful "moment", judging from the soft string music and the solemnity on their faces.  For some reason, going through each other's underwear drawers and tripping over each other's kid's toys is meant to be a deeply emotional experience for them and us, although I didn't really get why.

Of course, a big part of the story will be the alternately zany and heartwarming culture shock that is generated when Ria and Marilyn encounter each other's friends.  Ria discovers that Marilyn has the standard "brassy broad" gal pal who seems to constantly flounce from one of these movies to the next--the frizzy-haired, obnoxious fashion disaster, Carlotta ("Ab Fab" script editor Ruby Wax).  There's also a funny black friend named Heidi (Jia Francis), because rich white women always have a funny black friend.  Ria is invaded by them upon her arrival and is flustered and nonplussed by their raucous American behavior since people aren't brassy and obnoxious and black in dear ol' Dublin, doon't ya know, and they get tipsy and have girl-talk and it's all just so delightful!  Not.

Meanwhile, Marilyn is ransacking her way through Ria's private photographs and looking wistful as sad music plays on the soundtrack.  At this point I have absolutely no emotional investment in this character, yet I'm supposed to be all weepy over her.  Actually, I can't stand her.  Anyway, she encounters Ria's restauranteur-gardener friend, Colm (Stephen Rea) and her other friend Rosemary (Maria Doyle Kennedy), and they're so low-key and sweetly encouraging and relaxing to be around--just what poor Marilyn needs, bless her heart.  Various other people flit in and out of her vicinity and talk Irish at her, which she finds enchanting.  It's as though she's stumbled into some kind of Tolkien fantasy full of playful hobbits.

I check the DVD time and find that only one-fourth of the movie has elapsed so far.  Oh...my...god.

Ria meets Marilyn's brother-in-law Andy (Jean-Marc Barr) and they hit it off because he's one of those fantasy chick-flick guys who is soft-spoken, wimpily handsome, and talks about his feelings yet knows when to listen, so it looks like a romance is in the offing.  I can't believe I'm talking about this stuff.  Please shoot me.

Did I mention that Marilyn has two giddy, flamboyantly-gay friends who supply comedy relief by queening it up whenever they're onscreen?  Of course she does.  Ria cute-meets them and gets a job cooking in their bakery.  Then she goes out with Andy for a romantic, emotional dinner that ends with Irish coffee by the pool.  She's finding herself!

Things get more complicated when Danny's business goes bust and he starts running around doing desperate things and turning into even more of a bad guy.  And Rosemary is revealed to be not quite the good friend to Ria that she was thought to be, so Ria must learn to be more assertive and self-reliant at last.  While all this is going on, Marilyn begins to inch her way back to happiness when she's reunited with her husband and finally learns to accept her son's death.  And yes, both women grow in the process.  Hallelujah!

This movie wants to take us on an emotional rollercoaster ride but it's more like getting stuck in traffic with a carload of people you can't stand and nothing on the radio but Barry Manilow.  The story is dotted with scenes meant to elicit instant reactions from us without really trying--a crying scene here, a party scene there, another plot complication, more crying--like a bad painter dabbing colorful flower petals on a bland still life. 

It's all deadly slow and lifeless, and when it was over, I felt like I'd just been released from bondage.  If you have a high tolerance for boring chick-flicks you may enjoy TARA ROAD, but it's definitely not my cup of Sleepytime Herbal Tea.

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