Saturday, May 5, 2007

Not Spiderman 3

Yesterday afternoon I treated myself to a movie at one of the Wehrenberg Theatres in the St. Louis area. Wehrenberg, which has been around for over 100 years now, started out in the Vaudeville business and got into film as early as the nineteen-aughts. The pre-film slideshow includes Wehrenberg trivia informing viewers that, for instance, Fred Wehrenberg once raffled off a "live baby" on stage...but it turned out to be a baby pig in a carriage. Then the pre-film film includes a jingle for Wehrenberg theatres which repeats the name "Wehrenberg" so many times that the incorrigible smart-aleck in me always ends up asking my nearest neighbor: "What was that name again?"

As I lined up for tickets, the people ahead of me ordered tickets to Spiderman 3, Spiderman 3, Spiderman 3, and Spiderman 3. So when I got to the front of the line and said, "One ticket for The Invisible," the cashier did a double-take and said, "What, not Spiderman 3?" No, sorry, I am just not in the mood for it. I'm not sure when to expect to be in the mood for it again.

I took my ticket and ended up being one of about 3 people in the audience at The Invisible, though it wasn't that movie's first weekend so I suppose it could have turned out worse. Based on a Swedish novel and film, The Invisible depicts the dark side of today's high school scene.

In Act 1, you meet a boy named Nick, who lives alone with his controlling, widowed mother, and dreams of going to London to study writing. Nick is a good kid: top student, faithful friend, outwardly obedient to Mom...but he has secrets. Secrets like a plane ticket to London that his Mom doesn't know about because she doesn't want him to go to that writer's school. Secrets like dreaming about suicide and a tendency toward morbid thoughts and depression.

Meanwhile, you also meet Annie: a juvenile felon whose only happiness, at home, is her baby brother. At school she sells stolen cell phones and terrorizes other students with her gang of bullies. At night she helps her parolee-boyfriend jack cars and steal electronics. Her fate becomes tangled with Nick's when he tries to bail his best friend, Pete, out of trouble with Annie, and ends up getting beaten up himself. Later, after a fight, Annie's boyfriend tips police about stolen merchandise in her locker, and Annie thinks Pete is the one who ratted her out. Pete, thinking Nick is on a plane to London by that time, tells her it was Nick who called in the tip. Nick, however, has changed his mind about London. Annie's gang catches him mooching home from a party. They beat him up, drag him into the forest, and leave him for dead.

Act 2. Nick goes to school the next day, notices that nobody is paying attention to him, then notices that anything he does to try to get their attention doesn't really happen. By the time he gets home, the cops are there, treating him as a missing person. Nick realizes that he is dead. A short while later, in an ingenious scene played almost entirely without dialogue, Nick realizes he is alive after all...but he doesn't know how to tell anyone where his body is, so they can save him before it's too late.

Act 3. Nick realizes that the one person who can hear him is Annie. So the only person who can save him is the one who tried to kill him. Nick follows Annie around and talks to her, somehow coming to understand her and sympathize with her a little, but always trying to persuade her to tell the police where they can find him.

Act 4. Meanwhile, Annie's little conspiracy is falling apart as Pete, her toadies, and her boyfriend come increasingly unglued. Hunted, on the run, betrayed, by the time Annie wants to save Nick, she no longer knows where his body lies.

Act 5. The violent climax where the lives of Nick, Annie, and others hang in the balance.

The only principal actor at all familiar to me is Marcia Gay Harden, playing Nick's mother. Their mother-son relationship comes across very effectively, from the eerie opening scene in which she seems almost inhuman in her controlling coldness, through their various scenes together when Nick (or rather, his ghost) comes to understand her more and more, and finally to communicate with her.

The young actors who play the main characters all gave natural, unforced, strong performances. They seem very talented. Justin Chatwin, best known for playing Tom Cruise's son in The War of the Worlds, has a "belongs to another world" look even in the scenes where his character is alive and well, and masterfully handles a wide range of emotional challenges as a ghost trying to save his own life. Newcomer Margarita Levieva also has a heavy load to carry as a nearly irredeemable teenage monster who, by the end of her journey, somehow manages to redeem herself. Other actors, heretofore seen either in bit parts or in bit movies, make a strong impression, inspiring hope for their future work.

IMAGES FROM TOP: Callum Keith Rennie and Michelle Harrison as the cops searching for Nick; Christopher Marquette and Justin Chatwin as Pete and Nick; Margarita Levieva as Annie, with Chatwin; Ryan Kennedy and Andrew Francis as Annie's gang, with Alex O'Loughlin as Marcus (the boyfriend) and Levieva; and Marcia Gay Harden as Nick's mother.

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