So far, it seems this movie blog is definitive proof of the truism that criticism is cheaper than praise; it’s easier to pick apart what’s wrong with a bad or mediocre movie than it is to praise what’s good. So sitting down to write something about a really great film like Away From Her, I find myself at a loss for what to say.
Already a seasoned actor at 29, Sarah Polley proves herself a mature and sensitive writer/director on her very first outing. Although concerned with Alzheimer’s, Away From Her is thankfully not a movie “about” a disease. I felt the biopic Iris, although finely acted by no less than Kate Winslet, Judi Dench, and Jim Broadbent, fell into the trap of educating the audience about a disease more than looking at the experiences of the real-life figures whose lives were surely defined by more than Iris Murdoch’s disease.
Fiona (Julie Christie) and long-time husband Grant (Gordon Pinsent) are already aware of her relatively early-onset Alzheimer’s as the movie begins, but react to its sudden progression with different degrees of preparedness. Worse, as her short term memory leaves her, memories of old traumas resurface just as it is time for her to enter an assisted living community, making an impossible situation no easier for either of them. The next time Grant sees her, she appears to have forgotten him altogether… or has she? The possibility that Grant may be reading his fears into Fiona’s behavior and lapses is one of the most powerful questions of the film.
Polley reportedly talked Julie Christie out of semi-retirement, and she deserves an Oscar for her Canadian accent alone. Christie’s long resume and Oscar nomination put her in the entertainment media’s spotlight this winter, but Gordon Pinsent is excellent as Grant, arguably the lead role. Away From Her may be a powerfully sad movie, but not one that anyone should be afraid of being bummed out by.