Diane Wiest’s dynamic performance redeems the unnecessary dose of depression this simple drama spoon feeds. Well, almost.
Maris Curran’s Five Nights in Maine is the Saw of grieving dramas. Listen. A film can be sad and still not be especially good — or more importantly enjoyable. For as much emotion as it can convey, the result feels like misery for the sake of it — misery without contemplation or redemption. Misery in order to convey the fact that misery exists and is well… miserable.
David Oyelowo takes the role of our grieving leading man Sherwin, who looses his wife Fiona to a car accident within the first ten minutes of the film. The first act is one of the most overwhelmingly depressing of any film in a long while. No attempts at lightheartedness are made. The grief is palpable and Oyelowo does a fine job portraying it, with the most piercing moments coming from his face and not the dialogue. A particularly tough sequence has Sherwin calmly thanking his nephew while playing video games following the statement, “I’m sorry about Fiona.”
Oyelowo’s performance is perfectly fine but Diane Wiest, who plays Fiona’s estranged mother Lucinda, steals the show neatly and completely. Days before her passing, Fiona returned from Lucinda’s fuming — turns out she had a similar conflict with Sherwin and each party finds the other to blame. When Sherwin tries to find solace and answers by visiting an aging Lucinda in her Maine cabin. Her caretaker Ann (Rosie Perez) tries her best to help Sherwin adjust to both the loss and the newfound adversary. Wiest’s performance has range. She is fierce, often frightening, but lightens up. Her layers unfold like an onion with each progressing scene. The end result is cliche, for sure, but by no fault of Wiest. From the moment of her introduction Lucinda remains the focal point of any engaged audience member.
The complete and utter heaviness of the material is not what drags Five Nights in Maine down. It’s the lack of connective tissue to real life. The film lets grief exist in a vacuum, showing only the side effects. It is a situation where Sherwin confronts his loss directly in every scene. But loss doesn’t work that way. Loss permeates every second of your life, even when you must complete the most mundane task. This element feels completely tossed aside.
And then there is Fiona. She is a character, developed almost exclusively in flashbacks. It’s not especially effective and breaks up the pacing of the movie in a major way. A longer version — perhaps one that exists — than the 82 minute one seen could have split the film between Sherwin’s time with Fiona and his time with Lucinda. In fact, this version would make more sense. A riskier cut could have done away with Fiona completely and dealt with loss as an abstract concept, allowing the audience to internalize completely. The film splits the difference on this case and while the impact of the loss is felt, we are left feeling like we never knew Fiona on the same level as either of the other characters. Of course we never could get that close. But while it feels like the film wants us to embedded our emotions in the text, it is rarely interesting enough to prevent your mind from wandering and extrapolating the emotions felt to your own interpersonal relationships.
Not much else is here. Music is sparse. The filmmaking deals in close-ups and handheld cam. The script engages because the actors choose to engage with it, but for as much real energy that went into fueling it, Five Nights in Maine lacks the appropriate output to match and therefore confusing reality with mundanity.
Five Nights in Maine comes to theaters and VOD services on August 5.