Starring:Uma Thurman,Evan Rachel Wood,Eva Amurri,Gabrielle Brennan,Adam Chanler-Berat,Peter Conboy
Written By:Emil Stern
Music by James Horner
Cinematography : Paweł Edelman
In The Life Before Her Eyes, director Vadim Perelman (House Of Sand And Fog) attempts to weave a morality tale culled directly from recent tragic events. Using a Columbine-like school massacre as the foundation for a narrative may, at first glance, seem bold and provocative. Under his heavy-handed direction, however, the film sinks into pretentiousness leaving the viewer with an uncomfortable lack of compassion and sympathy for the victims.
The film jumps back and forth between present-day and a fateful day fifteen years ago when high-schoolers Diana and Maureen were confronted with life and death while staring down the barrel of an assault rifle wielded by an angry student. Paired together, the two are unlikely friends: Diana (Evan Rachel Wood) is a rebellious free-thinker who bucks authority at every opportunity. Maureen (Eva Amurri) is a conservative, church-going religious-type who is guided by ethics. This fascinating dynamic of their relationship is never explored in any deep, meaningful way which makes it seem entirely implausible that they could be friends in the first place. It all seems contrived and fabricated. The one bright spot remains Wood who, as always, shines in her edginess and intensity. (She does, however, need to start expanding her range as an actress. She seemingly plays this same angst-ridden teenager in most of her recent roles: Thirteen, Down In The Valley, King Of California).
Fast forward fifteen years and Diana (the stoic Uma Thurman) is now a married mother of a young daughter. Living in the same small town, the anniversary of the slaying is the backdrop to a woman on the edge of a mental breakdown. It is here that the film falls apart. Perelman and screenwriter Emil Stern try so hard to link images, sounds and dialogue to the past that it borders on tedium. The guilt over choices made that fateful day continue to burden Diana and she makes sure that everyone knows it. The result is a miserable woman who is over-protective, overbearing, and fragile.
This is what guilt can do to someone and Perelman drives this point with a sledgehammer. We should feel compassion for Diana but her lack of recognition of her plight leaves the viewer feeling ambivalent. Healing emotional wounds is not easy, but Diana has done seemingly nothing to deal with it. One wonders why she even lives in the same town anymore if everyday is a constant reminder of the tragedy. What about therapy or counseling?
The ending, which presumes to be clever, is so pretentious and out-of-left-field that you will either feel angry or be left scratching your head. The herky-jerky narrative robs the film of any suspense or build-up. The characters wallowing in their guilt and misery is unbearable considering that there is no glimmer of hope to alleviate their suffering. In the end, The Life Before Her Eyes paints a dark, hopeless picture of human existence. Perhaps that is Perelman’s worldview—he just made a really bad film to express it.