Among the saddest fates one can receive is a slow death by sickness. In such cases people end up going out with a whimper rather than a bang; it is undignified and sad. Death however is not always the biggest toll on families struck by these afflictions. Family members are also affected by the ailments of their loved ones. Away From Her is the story of one of these family members who must watch his wife deteriorate in front of his eyes.
The film focuses on Grant Anderson (Gordon Pinsent) a middle-aged man who’s wife Fiona (Julie Christie) has been struck with Alzheimer’s disease. Grant makes the tough decision to put his wife in an assisted living home, something he is extremely reluctant to do as he would not be able to visit her during her first month at the institution. Despite his hesitations, Fiona wants to remain at the institution where she believes she needs to be. When he returns the next month he finds his wife no longer remembers him and has formed a relationship with another man who is a patient at the home.
Away From Her was directed by Sarah Polley, an actress who had a memorable role in Atom Egoyan’s great 1997 film The Sweet Hereafter at the age of eighteen. Now ten years later she is making her directing debut with Egoyan acting as the producer. The film is based on a short story by Alice Munro.
As a story, Away From Her isn’t overly compelling. It shows an interesting situation and works fairly well as a character study. What it lacks is a compelling conflict to carry it through. It is interesting for a while but begins to drag about half way through and doesn’t really go anywhere. It feels like Polley took this short story and tried too hard to expand it. It unfortunately gets a little boring after a while.
What redeems the film is a pair of excellent performances by Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie. Christie’s performance is especially strong, playing a mentally disturbed person has long been a good way to earn respect as an actor and this is no exception. Pinsent has a less showy role, but it’s also a more important role, and he pulls it off real well.
Still, at the end of the day this story just didn’t really grab me and the film simply loses steam after about the half-way point. It’s a noble effort with some great acting, but ultimately it didn’t really work for me.
**1/2 out of four