With Illumination Entertainment’s release of The Grinch, viewers can now opt to take in their favorite Christmas-cursing green grump in cartoon, live action, or computer animated form. At a meager 86 minutes, this 2018 adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s iconic storybook “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” nonetheless adds a menagerie of new material, including a subplot about Cindy Lou Who scheming to ensnare Santa and a handful of new characters including a chubby reindeer named Fred, offering an admittedly adorable – if definitely not superior – update to the classic holiday mainstay. Read More
Like looking through a stranger’s photo album, Decoding Annie Parker takes aim at the heartstrings but misses by a country mile. Samantha Morton is tenderly powerful as the titular lead who’s lost a legion of family to the C-word but the film surrounding her is smugly self-satisfied and executed with the gushy panache of a Hallmark Mother’s Day card. Director Steven Bernstein‘s fingers are sticky from the cans of syrup he’s drizzled this sickly memorialization with – from the gag-inducing tearjerker ballads he employs to his frustratingly cloying bedside manner.
With his focus laser-pointing all over a woman so hopelessly hopeful, Bernstein attempts to marry his Oprah Channel intent to the reputation of his subject, but fails to parse said subject from should-be subtext. Had she watched the movie, we imagine the real Mrs. Parker would occasionally yuck over the final product (that is, if she weren’t contracted to peddle this sadness porn.)
Annie Parker is meant to stand in as a statue of feminine stamina: a mother, a daughter, a witness to innumerable loss; a cancer survivor, an amateur researcher, a hairless cuckold; a woman wronged at every turn. She’s seen her mother, sister, and father whisked away at the hands of sickle-wielding cancer and before she’s ever diagnosed, she knows the creeping digit of death is pointing her way next.
Like a certifiably crazed hypochondriac, Annie molests her own breasts hunting for lumps like Indiana Jones for treasure. The way she’s man-handling those tatas, we assume we’ve missed the scene where she wines and dines them. Her visits to the boob doctor’s office are so frequent that she’s essentially the titty-fondling office lucky penny. When she does finally unearth a scoop of tumor in her breastal region, the doctor tells her, “Stage 3. Quite advanced.” The lesson: vigilance doesn’t pay?
Annie drops knowledge bombs on the doctor along the lines of, “My grandma, mom, and sister all had breast cancer, there must be a genetic connection!” to which the doctor gives her the equivalent of a head pat and a pair of eyes that say, “I’m sorry, did you say your education stopped after your high school diploma?” Cue: more frustration.
Helen Hunt then shows up as some feminist Joan of Arc scientist/superdoctor, willing to burn in a conflagration of peer-reviewed journals to prove that breast cancer is as hereditary as genital alopecia or Down’s Syndrome. The guy in charge of handing out what would be her grant money might as well be Annie Parker’s dickish doctor’s son though, because he’s apparently received the same gene that allows him to cast glares at women and their “breast cancer” with all the glib sympathy of “Are we done here?”
At this point, Bernstein knows exactly what his audience wants and delivers a deliciously juicy montage of chemo-fatigue, hair loss of the wispy variety and vomiting green goo into bed pans. He’s trying to twist our arm into surrendering tears but his power is weak and his tactic folly. You sit there and take it but can’t help but shrug when the pity wave washes over you. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not sympathy I lack so much as tolerance for trivializing trauma in such a ho-hum manner.
Though Hunt is nothing shy of unremarkable (especially when taken in the context of her stunning performance in 2012’s The Sessions), Morton brings sympathy and full-bodied authenticity to Annie Parker. She’s a trooper, a patented solider on the warpath with breast cancer and her “aw shucks” earnesty does nothing but earn our favor. While Hunt feels dilatory and cold-blooded, Morton fleshes things into the realm of the real complete with the comedy and tragedy that occupies the randomness of life. Other characters though feel short-changed.
Give me more Aaron Paul with butt-length hair (and less Aaron Paul in deep-set eyeliner) or another serving of that spunkified Rashida Jones – apparently just freed from what must have been a long tenure in Macy’s makeup department. But no, everything is glossed and glossy- nothing more so than the timeline in Bernstein’s film. He gives each scene a few minutes to establish who’s dying now and then floats to the next tearjerker before allowing the last one to sink in. A cracked out Easter bunny doesn’t hop around as much as this noob. As he bounds from month to month, year to year without allowing us to get a feel for the dynamics or chemistry between the characters, we lose synch with anything and everything, save for Morton’s tasteful characterization of Annie Parker.
Bernstein works the movie like a circus clown, loading suckerpunch after suckerpunch into his cinematic cannon, but they strike with dull thuds. His pleads for heartbreak hardly break a sweat; his swings of outrage leave us unscathed. He’s the Superman of indifference, the Flash of going nowhere fast. Ostensibly about cancer, this movie is actually about throwing a pity party and pillow fighting your way out of it to an N’Sync soundtrack.