Review: ‘Poolman,’ starring Chris Pine, Annette Bening, DeWanda Wise, Stephen Tobolowsky, Clancy Brown, John Ortiz, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Danny DeVito

May 23, 2024

by Carla Hay

Chris Pine in “Poolman” (Photo courtesy of Vertical)

“Poolman”

Directed by Chris Pine

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the comedy film “Poolman” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latin people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An apartment complex’s swimming pool cleaner, who is working on an environmental documentary about Los Angeles, investigates a corruption scheme involving a city council president and a property developer. 

Culture Audience: “Poolman” will appeal primarily to people are fans of the movie’s headliners and don’t mind watching a time-wasting and poorly made movie.

Chris Pine in “Poolman” (Photo courtesy of Vertical)

“Poolman” is like a flimsy and faulty floating device that’s full of holes and quickly sinks due to its sheer incompetence. This comedy noir mystery is very unamusing and incoherent. Everyone involved should be embarrassed.

“Poolman” is the feature-film directorial debut of actor Chris Pine, who stars in the movie and co-wrote (with Ian Gotler) the abysmal screenplay. “Poolman” (which takes place in Los Angeles, where the movie was filmed on location) is clearly inspired by the Oscar-winning 1974 noir mystery “Chinatown,” starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway. However, “Poolman” removes all of the good filmmaking qualities that make “Chinatown” a classic. “Poolman” had its world premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival, which clearly chose this movie because of Pine’s fame, not because of the low quality of the film.

In “Poolman,” Darren Barrenman (played by Pine) is a long-haired, scruffy, wannabe documentarian who has a day job as the swimming pool cleaner for a shabby motel-like apartment complex called the Tahitian Tiki. Darren (who is the only employee of his Awesome Aquatics business) lives in a small trailer that is awkwardly located on the side of the Tahitian Tiki’s swimming pool. Darren is dating Tahitian Tiki manager Susan Kerkovich (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh), but their relationship seems to be stuck in a rut. Darren and Susan have boring conversations that go nowhere, such as when they are in bed and talk about how the owner of their favorite chicken restaurant has recently died.

Darren has an obsession with real-life environmental activist Erin Brockovich, so he is seen typing (on a typewriter) a letter to her every day. These letters, which are read out loud in voiceovers, are quite pathetic because Darren sounds like a jilted ex-lover in these letters, even though he has apparently never met Brockovich. Darren wants to make an important environmental documentary about Los Angeles and is against any property development that might harm the environment. One of the reasons why he’s directing this documentary is so he can impress Brockovich.

Darren has three friends who are helping him with this documentary: Diane Esplinade (played by Annette Bening), who seems to be a producer, constantly rambles about New Age self-care gibberish. Jack Denisoff (played by Danny DeVito) is a cinematographer, who often likes to talk about his glory days working as a television director. Wayne (played by John Ortiz), who is a production assistant, is described as Darren’s “best friend” and a “union analyst.”

“Poolman” is so poorly written, it isn’t made immediately clear what type of relationship Diane and Jack have with emotionally immature Darren. When Diane and Jack are first seen with Darren in the movie, Diane and Jack act like they are Darren’s parents, not his documentary co-worker/friends. Darren’s relationship with “best friend” Wayne is also strange, with no backstory.

Darren makes himself a nuisance at Los Angeles City Council meetings to protest anything that he thinks will harm the environment. Darren is very suspicious of an upcoming property development called the Very Venice Housing Project. At one of these meetings, Darren is ranting about an environmental study that he has completed. The president of the Los Angeles City Council is Stephen Toronkowski (played by Stephen Tobolowsky), who sees that Darren is attempting a filibuster, so he orders Darren to stop.

A bailiff named Reggie (played by Aflamu Johnson) tries to stop Darren, but Darren assaults Reggie. Darren is arrested, but he is bailed out of jail by June Del Rey (played by DeWanda Wise), who dresses and acts like she thinks she’s in a 1940s noir film. June tells Darren that she’s Stephen’s new executive assistant and says she needs Darren’s help in exposing Stephen as a corrupt politician. Darren has a romantic attraction to June that never looks believable in this dreadful movie.

Meanwhile, Darren’s investigation involves a wealthy property developer named Theodore “Teddy” Hollandaise (played by Clancy Brown), the CEO of Big Dutch Group, the company behind the Very Venice Housing Project. There’s also another rich mogul named William Van Patterson (played by Ray Wise), who becomes part of the story. Darren and his documentary film pals get involved in amateurish and bumbling spying on suspicious characters.

Everything in “Poolman” is sloppily conceived and clumsily executed. Bening does the best that she can in a terribly written role, while the other cast members’ performances are mediocre-to-horrible. Pine constantly mugs for the camera and smirks in ways that quickly become irritating, as Darren shows how much of a moronic “investigator” he can be.

The secrets and surprise “reveals” for some of the characters just add to the movie’s idiocy. There are plenty of low-budget, independent movies that are of low quality, but “Poolman” didn’t have to be this bad, considering the well-known talent involved. All of that talent is wasted and goes down the drain quicker than obnoxious poolman Darren can empty a pool.

Vertical released “Poolman” in select U.S. cinemas on May 10, 2024.

Review: ‘Death on the Nile’ (2022), starring Kenneth Branagh, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Annette Bening, Sophie Okonedo, Letitia Wright and Jennifer Saunders

February 7, 2022

by Carla Hay

Letitia Wright (second from left); Armie Hammer and Gal Gadot (center); Dawn French (fifth from right); Ali Fazal (fourth from right); and Kenneth Branagh (far right) in “Death on the Nile” (Photo by Rob Youngson/20th Century Studios)

“Death on the Nile” (2022)

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Some language in French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in 1937 in Egypt and England (and briefly in 1914 in Belgium), the dramatic film “Death on the Nile” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Celebrated detective Hercule Poirot gets involved in a murder mystery that happens during a glamorous newlywed couple’s honeymoon trip to Egypt, and all of the suspects are the couple’s friends, associates and enemies who are on the trip.

Culture Audience: “Death on the Nile” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of Agatha Christie novels, murder mysteries and the stars of this movie.

Gal Gadot, Emma Mackey and Armie Hammer in Death on the Nile” (Photo by Rob Youngson/20th Century Studios)

Stylish and suspenseful but with some occasional missteps, the 2022 remake of “Death on the Nile” should satisfy fans of retro murder mysteries. The movie stands out for giving famed detective Hercule Poirot more of a personal backstory. Kenneth Branagh, who stars as Poirot and leads the all-star cast, is the director of the 2022 version of “Death on the Nile,” which was written by Michael Green and is based on Agatha Christie’s 1937 novel of the same name. The book was also made into a 1978 movie that also had a star-studded cast that included Peter Ustinov, Bette Davis, Mia Farrow, David Niven, Maggie Smith, Angela Lansbury and George Kennedy.

“Death on the Nile” centers on a murder mystery that takes place during a wealthy newlywed couple’s honeymoon cruise to Egypt. The 2022 movie version of “Death on the Nile” makes some significant changes in the cast of characters from the book and the 1978 movie. There are slightly less people in the group of suspects, and the group has racial diversity that was missing from the book and the 1978 movie. Branagh, Green and most of the same team of producers (including Branagh) who made 2017’s “Murder on the Orient Express” (another movie remake of an Agatha Christie novel starring Hercule Poirot) are also behind the 2022 version of “Death on the Nile.”

Belgian detective Poirot has been a bit of a mystery himself, but the 2022 version of “Death on the Nile” makes a bold move to expose his vulnerabilities, by opening with a flashback scene that shows his personal life before he became a famous private investigator. It’s October 31, 1914, and Poirot is on a World War I battlefield with a group of soldiers near the Yser Bridge in Belgium. Through his highly intelligent deduction skills, Poirot is able to suggest an attack strategy that ends up saving the lives of his military comrades.

Captain Rens (played by Orlando Seale), the group leader, praises Poirot, by saying: “You were right, Poirot. You’re too smart to be a farmer.” But then, tragedy strikes when Captain Rens walks somewhere on the battlefield that accidentally triggers a booby-trap bomb, and he is instantly killed.

Poirot is severely injured in the blast, and he ends up in a hospital. A bedridden Poirot is visited in the hospital by his fiancée Katherine (played by Susannah Fielding), who comforts him because Poirot blames himself for Captain Rens’ death. There’s another reason why Poirot is so despondent: The right side of face has been severely disfigured.

Poirot, who had plans to be a farmer after he got out of the military, tells Katherine that he will understand if she no longer wants to marry him and end their relationship. Katherine professes her undying loyalty to Poirot and tries to cheer him up. She says about covering up his large facial scar: “Simple: You’ll grow a moustache.” And in that moment, it’s explained why Poirot has an unusually large moustache that curls over his face cheeks.

The movie then fast-forwards to London in 1937. A famous nightclub frequented by celebrities is having an eventful night. World-famous socialite/heiress Linnet Ridgeway (played by Gal Gadot) has arrived at the nightclub to much fanfare and media attention. Also at the nightclub are an attractive, newly engaged couple named Jacqueline “Jackie” de Bellefort (played by Emma Mackey) and Simon Doyle (played by Armie Hammer), who both love being in glamorous company but are struggling financially.

Jackie and Linnet have known each other since they went to the same high school, but they haven’t stayed in touch and haven’t seen each other in a while. Simon is unemployed and looking for work. Jackie is hoping that Linnet will offer Simon a job in Linnet’s real-estate ventures.

When Jackie and Linnet see each other for the first time in years, they greet each other warmly. Jackie introduces her fiancé Simon to Linnet and boasts about how intelligent and capable he is in real estate development. Jackie asks Linnet to hire Simon. And as encouragement for Linnet to see how charming Simon is, Jackie tells Simon that he should dance with Linnet.

As soon as that happens, you know what’s going to come next: Simon and Linnet dance together, and there’s noticeable chemistry between them. Jackie notices it too, and she looks a little bit wary and uncomfortable.

The nightclub’s entertainment for the evening is an American blues singer named Salome Otterbourne (played by Sophie Okonedo), a talented entertainer who hides her streetwise toughness behind a seductive Southern drawl. (Okonedo is a very good singer, by the way.) Salome’s manager is her niece Rosalie Otterbourne (played by Letitia Wright), who is first seen demanding that the nightclub owner/manager Monsieur Blondin (played by Rick Warden) pay Salome’s entire fee up front, before Salome performs.

Monsieur Blondin tries to act like he won’t pay until after the performance, but Rosalie stands firm and gets what she wants. Rosalie tells him that nightclub owners have a way of suddenly being “broke” and unable to pay an entertainer who performed in the club. This exchange is a nod to what many entertainers had to go through to avoid getting ripped off by unscrupulous promoters and venue owners who tried to cheat entertainers out of their rightful payment. No one brings up race in this movie, but the implication is that these ripoffs happened to black entertainers more than white entertainers.

The characters of Salome and Rosalie represent two of the biggest changes in the 2022 version of “Death on the Nile.” In the book and in the 1978 movie, Salome and Rosalie are both white characters, with Salome being a romance novelist and Rosalie being Salome’s daughter. The 2022 version of “Death on the Nile” presents Salome as very forward-thinking and progressive to make her niece her manager, since it was very unusual in 1937 for a young black woman to be a talent manager in the entertainment business.

After this nightclub scene, “Death on the Nile” then fast-forwards six weeks later. Simon and Linnet are now newlyweds who are honeymooning in Egypt. (The movie never shows their courtship.) The honeymoon includes a cruise on the Nile River. What happened to Jackie? She’s become a bitter and jilted ex-lover who has been stalking Linnet and Simon.

Poirot is in Egypt too, traveling alone. He’s taking in the sights of a pyramid when he sees his young friend Bouc (played by Tom Bateman) flying a kite on the pyramid. (Bouc was also in “Murder on the Orient Express,” since he is the nephew of the Orient Express’ owner.) Bouc and Poirot are happy to see each other and marvel at how much of a coincidence that they are both in this remote area.

Poirot’s encounter with Bouc is how he finds out that Bouc and his domineering, wealthy mother Euphemia Bouc (played by Annette Bening) are guests who were invited to be on Linnet and Simon’s honeymoon party trip. All of the guests have gathered at the same hotel before they embark on the cruise on the Nile.

And what a coincidence: Poirot is staying at the same hotel too. And he gets invited to be a part of this honeymoon party. Also invited are Salome and Rosalie, because Linnet was so impressed with Salome’s nightclub performance, Linnet hired Salome to be the entertainment for this honeymoon trip. Another member of this honeymoon entourage is Linnet’s loyal business trustee Katchadourian (played by Ali Fazal), who was a white man named Andrew Pennington in the book and 1978 movie. In the 2022 version of “Death on the Nile,” Katchadourian is also Linnet’s cousin.

Also along for the trip are Linnet’s quiet and timid maid Louise Bourget (played by Rose Leslie); Linnet’s feisty socialite godmother Marie Van Schuyler (played by Jennifer Saunders); Marie’s dutiful nurse Miss Bowers (played by Dawn French); and Linnet’s ex-fiancé Dr. Windlesham (played by Russell Brand), a medical physician whom Linnet dumped to be with Simon. When Poirot later asks Dr. Windlesham why he agreed to go on this potentially awkward honeymoon trip, Dr. Windlesham replies that Linnet invited him and he couldn’t say no to her.

Bouc introduces Poirot to Simon and Linnet. In a private conversation, Linnet tells Poirot about the stalking problem that she and Simon have with Jackie. Linnet wants to hire Poirot to get Jackie to stop stalking the couple. However, when Poirot asks Linnet if Jackie has made any threats, Linnet says no and admits that all Jackie does is show up in the same places and Simon and Linnet and stare at them.

Poirot is candid in telling Linnet that Jackie technically isn’t breaking the law, because Jackie hasn’t made any threats and because Jackie is not trespassing in the public places where she follows Simon and Linnet. However, Poirot agrees to talk to Jackie the next time that he sees her and promises to try to convince Jackie to stop following Simon and Linnet. Somehow, Jackie found out about this cruise, so she’s booked on the same cruise ship as the honeymoon party group.

Linnet also confides in Poirot that she doesn’t feel safe in this group of people she’s invited on her honeymoon. “When you have money, you have no friends,” Linnet says with jaded sorrow. Linnet tells Poirot that she constantly feels as if she’s in danger. It’s a foreshadowing of what will eventually happen to Linnet.

When Poirot meets Jackie for the first time, it’s on the cruise ship. He finds out in their private conversation that Linnet has outshined Jackie, ever since they were in high school together. As an example, Jackie remembers how Linnet replaced Jackie in the Cleopatra role of a school production of “Antony and Cleopatra.” Poirot tactfully tells Jackie that she should move on with her life and let Simon and Linnet be happy together. But Jackie insists, “Simon loves me! A love that fierce doesn’t vanish!”

Poirot then opens up to Jackie about his own heartbreak, when he talks about how he thought he couldn’t live after the end of a love affair with a woman he considers to be his soulmate. He’s obviously talking about Katherine, but what happened to Poirot and Katherine is hinted at and not fully divulged in the movie. Poirot’s eyes tear up when he talks about her, and it’s a rare moment when he shows how emotionally damaged he’s been by this heartbreak.

You don’t have to be a psychiatrist to speculate that Poirot’s eccentricities and his decision to go into detective work instead of being a farmer perhaps had a lot to do with how he was affected by the end of his romance with Katherine. Poirot is famously obsessive-compulsive. His insistence on sticking to certain habits and believing in certain superstitions are indications that he wants to maintain some type of control in his life. There’s a scene in the movie where Poirot is given seven tiny desserts to eat at his dining table, and he asks that one of the desserts be taken away because he only wants to have an even number (not an odd number) of dishes on the table.

And who gets murdered in “Death on the Nile”? It’s not spoiler information (since it’s common knowledge) that Linnet is found dead of a gunshot wound, in her bed on the cruise ship. A valuable necklace of hers also goes missing around the same time. (In the book and 1978 movie, it’s a pearl necklace. In the 2022 movie, it’s a yellow diamond necklace.) And Poirot immediately begins his investigation to find out who’s responsible for Linnet’s murder. Linnet won’t be the only person to die during this ill-fated trip.

The 2022 movie version of “Death on the Nile” takes some liberties with reality, because during this entire investigation, the ship’s officials aren’t shown getting involved in this murder investigation. And for the purpose of streamlining the story, there are less people who are investigated than there would be in real life, when anyone on the ship could be considered a person of interest, until proven otherwise. Conveniently, Linnet reserved the entire ship for herself and her entourage. But unrealistically, no one in the ship’s staff is questioned during this investigation.

The 2022 “Death on the Nile” eliminates, condenses or makes other changes to certain characters that were in the book and the 1978 movie. What hasn’t changed is that all of the suspects are people who knew Linnet. In addition to having more racial diversity, the 2022 version of “Death on the Nile” has LGBTQ representation in a subplot that won’t be revealed here. It should come as no surprise that Poirot is the one who figures out certain people’s secrets.

In the book and in the 1978 movie, Marie Van Schuyler and Miss Bowers are American, but they are British in the 2022 version of “Death on the Nile.” The book and the 1978 movie both had a character that’s not in the 2022 movie: an outspoken Communist named Mr. Ferguson. In a divisive political climate, it’s easy to see why the filmmakers of the 2022 “Death on the Nile” wanted to avoid politics in this movie remake.

The 1978 movie and book had a character named physician Dr. Bessner (who was Austrian in the book and Swiss in the movie), but the Dr. Bessner character is not in the 2022 movie. The Dr. Windlesham character seems to be a substitute for the Dr. Bessner character, since Dr. Windlesham is the only one on the ship who can determine the cause of death and the estimated time of death. Meanwhile, the book has other characters that aren’t in either movie, such as attorney Jim Fanthorp, Italian archaeologist Guido Richetti and Marie’s cousin Cornelia Robson.

Branagh’s 2017 version of “Murder on the Orient Express” got some criticism for having a group of suspects that was too large and unwieldy. It might be why his 2022 version of “Death on the Nile” has a smaller ensemble cast that’s less likely to confuse or distract movie audiences, compared to a murder mystery with a larger group of suspects. Fans of Christie’s “Death on the Nile” novel shouldn’t be disappointed by these changes. Having a smaller ensemble cast than “Murder on the Orient Express” and the 1978 version of “Death on the Nile” gives the 2022 version of “Death on the Nile” more room to focus on the individual personalities of this intriguing group of suspects.

Viewers find out that Bouc, who is a friendly and open person, is in love with someone he wants to marry, but his paramour doesn’t have his mother Euphemia’s approval. Bouc is a self-admitted “mama’s boy” who desperately craves his mother’s approval and relies on her money for financial support, which she threatens to cut off if he marries the woman he loves. Euphemia is extremely bitter and cynical about love and marriage, because she repeatedly says that there’s no such thing as a happy marriage, and love usually ends in heartbreak.

Salome knows a thing or two about failed marriages, because when Poirot asks her about her personal life, she has this sassy reply: “I’ve had a handful of husbands. My husbands were a handful.” It eventually becomes obvious that uptight Poirot and free-spirited Salome have “opposites attract” feelings for each other. Whether or not it turns into a romance is hinted at in a “to be continued” manner. It’s another way that this movie shows Poirot as someone other than the rigid, enigmatic, asexual investigator that he’s presented as in the books and other movies about him.

As a movie that’s set mostly in Egypt, “Death on the Nile” has some visually stunning scenes of pyramids and the Nile River. The cinematography and production design are above-average for the most part, but sometimes the lighting is uneven or unflattering. For example, there are several interior scenes where the cast members’ faces look too shiny, as if they’re about to break out into a sweat. These are noticeable flaws that don’t take away from the overall enjoyment of the movie.

Viewers will find plenty of entertainment and thrills in “Death of the Nile,” although some of the characters aren’t fully developed. Linnet’s maid Louise often fades into the background. Linnet’s ex-fiancé Dr. Windlesham literally is a silent observer in the background for half of his screen time, until after Linnet’s murder when he suddenly becomes a talkative medical examiner.

Branagh authentically shows more emotional depth as Poirot, for the reasons stated earlier, which makes his performance in “Death on the Nile” much more interesting than in “Murder on the Orient Express.” Mackey handles her complex role well as Jackie, who is someone whom audiences can either pity or dislike, sometimes at the same time.

Gadot’s performance as Linnet is a little on the shallow side, while Hammer gives Simon a “plastic playboy” vibe of someone who’s accustomed to being the heartbreaker in a relationship. Are they believable as a couple who fell so passionately in love with each other that they got married within six weeks of meeting each other? Not really, but anyone who breaks off a marriage engagement to marry someone else within six weeks is someone who probably has self-centered tendencies. In that regard, Linnet and Simon are a superficial and vain couple that this story intended them to look like.

The rest of the cast members are perfectly fine in their roles. Some of the movie’s best lines are said by Salome, Euphemia and Marie: three strong-willed and outspoken women who, under different circumstances, might’ve had a great time together if they became friends. “Death on the Nile” has most of the main characters, including Poirot, rethinking perceptions of themselves and other people. It’s why this movie is more than a murder mystery. It’s also a thoughtful commentary on how death can change people’s life priorities.

20th Century Studios will release “Death on the Nile” in U.S. cinemas on February 11, 2022.

Review: ‘Hope Gap,’ starring Annette Bening, Bill Nighy and Josh O’Connor

March 6, 2020

by Carla Hay

Bill Nighy and Annette Bening in "Hope Gap"
Bill Nighy and Annette Bening in “Hope Gap” (Photo by Robert Viglasky)

“Hope Gap” 

Directed by William Nicholson

Culture Representation: Taking place in London and Seaford, England, the emotionally intense drama “Hope Gap” is about a middle-class white family affected by a painful divorce; the estranged couple’s son confides in two friends who are people of color.

Culture Clash: The former couple are at odds because the husband wants the divorce but the wife doesn’t.

Culture Audience: “Hope Gap” will appeal primarily to fans of arthouse cinema who want to see a well-written, well-acted story about the harsh realities of divorce and the effects that divorce can have on an adult child.

Josh O’Connor and Bill Nighy in “Hope Gap” (Photo by Robert Viglasky)

The divorce drama “Hope Gap” begins with gorgeous, sweeping aerial shots of Seaford, a small Sussex city on the South Coast of England. As the camera takes in the picturesque views of the cliffsides and grassy knolls, the movie’s narrator, Jamie Axton (played by Josh O’Connor), reminisces of a simpler time in his childhood. One of his favorite childhood activities was exploring in a cove called Hope Gap, located underneath the cliffs, as his mother would wait nearby on the rocks.

As viewers soon learn, Jamie’s nostalgic memories of Hope Gap are what he’ll have to cling to when he thinks of happier times in his parents’ marriage. And who are his parents? Jamie’s mother Grace Axton (played by Annette Benning) is retired, and Jamie’s father Edward Axton (played by Bill Nighy) is a history teacher at a local high school. Grace and Edward still live in their family home (a cozy Tudor house) in Seaford. Jamie, who’s in his mid-to-late-20s, is their only child, and he lives alone in a small London apartment.

Grace and Edward’s home might look comfortable, but the emotional atmosphere is filled with turmoil. The couple will soon be celebrating their 29th wedding anniversary, and Grace is annoyed that Edward doesn’t really seem to care. She nitpicks over little things—Edward’s hobby of updating Wikipedia articles, how he gets a cup of tea—and the more she nags and prods, the more he seems to shut down emotionally. She’s also angry that Edward doesn’t want to give any input for any plans she might have to celebrate their anniversary.

It’s obvious that Grace wants Edward’s romantic attention, and she’s practically begging him to say all the right things to her. But Edward seems to be paralyzed with not knowing if he can say the right thing, because Grace criticizes so much of what he does. Grace’s constant berating makes him think that he can never do anything right with her. As irritated as Grace seems to be with Edward, she speaks lovingly of Jamie. She tells Edward how much she misses Jamie and how she wishes he would visit more.

It isn’t long before Jamie comes to visit from London. Grace immediately starts in on Jamie about his love life. He’s single and dating, but not in a serious relationship. Grace says she wants him to settle down and get married, and she worries about him living alone. Jamie tells her that he’s comfortable living by himself,  and he doesn’t seem to be in a rush to get married and have kids.

Meanwhile, Grace (who’s a very religious Christian and very opiniated) expresses disappointment when Jamie tells her that he’s become an atheist. She tries to enlist Edward in her debate with Jamie about religion, but Edward refuses to take sides. Edward tells Grace that religion isn’t a fact; it’s a belief.

Grace gets even angrier when she and Edward have a tense conversation alone together. She badgers him to tell her what will make him happier. He doesn’t really have an answer for her. He just wants to be left alone. The argument escalates when Grace asks Edward to tell her that he loves her, but he refuses. She gets so upset that she slaps him and turns over the kitchen table in a rage.

All the signs are there that Edward has emotionally checked out of their marriage. However, it still comes as a shock to Jamie the next morning when he finds out that Edward is going to leave Grace that day. Jamie gets the news when Grace has gone to church, and he and Edward are alone together.

Edward tells Jamie that he’s going to leave Grace because he’s fallen in love with another woman, they’ve been having an affair for about a year, and he’s going to move in with her. His mistress’ name is Angela (played by Sally Rogers), and she’s the mother of one of his students. Edward plans to tell Grace this devastating news when she gets home from church, and Edward doesn’t want Grace to be alone in the next few days after Edward leaves her.

It’s then that Jamie realizes that keeping his mother’s company after the breakup is the real reason why Edward invited Jamie over to visit, and Edward basically admits it. A shocked Jamie tells Edward that he wants to leave for a few hours because he doesn’t want to be at the house when Grace gets blindsided by the news. And the breakup goes about as horribly as you’d might expect.

Grace goes through the stages of grief, with denial and anger being the ones that are the hardest for her to overcome. She doesn’t want to give Edward the divorce, even though he’s offered her the house and a generous settlement. Meanwhile, Jamie is angry at his father and mostly takes Grace’s side in the breakup, even though deep down he now knows that Edward had been miserable in the marriage for many years. Jamie decides to spend more time with his mother when he can, so that she won’t feel so alone. He can barely speak to his father, and he doesn’t want to meet Angela.

As Jamie travels and back and forth between London and Seaford, the divorce starts to take an emotional toll on him too, as he sees his mother slide into a deep depression. She’s given up her hobby of collecting poems. She’s stopped caring about her personal appearance and she spends long hours staring into space. Grace also shows signs of mental instability that go beyond depression, because she leaves love notes for Edward around the house, in the delusional hope that he will change his mind and come back to her. And she gets a male Labrador Retriever puppy and names him Edward.

Jamie is somewhat of a loner, but he has two close friends he confides in about his personal problems—a couple named Jess (played by Aiysha Hart) and Dev (played by Ryan McKen). Jess and Dev, who are happily dating each other, offer some insightful advice to Jamie, because they know his dating habits, which is a side of Jamie that his parents’ don’t see. They tell Jamie that as much as he might dislike his father Edward’s seemingly aloof demeanor, Jamie can also be emotionally distant when it comes to romantic relationships, and maybe he needs to open up more.

When Jamie realizes that he’s a lot more like his father than he really wanted to admit, it prompts him to look at his parents’ divorce from a new perspective, and he starts to come to grips with how the failure of the marriage will affect his views on life. “Hope Gap” has a level of heartbreaking authenticity that isn’t seen very much in movies about divorce. That’s probably because writer/director William Nicholson went through something similar when his parents split up after nearly 30 years of marriage.

While so many movies about divorce have the divorced couple fighting over child custody, “Hope Gap” shows the perspective of an adult child of divorce who has to “choose sides” when the battle isn’t over custody but over loyalty. As the family at the center of the story, the three stars of the movie—Bening, Nighy and O’Connor—give admirable performances that are bound to pull at people’s heartstrings and tear ducts.

And the majestic seaside setting of “Hope Gap” (which is beautifully filmed by cinematographer Anna Valdez Hanks) gives added depth to the feelings of isolation, fear and wistfulness that the Axtons experience in the story. The treacherous waves that crash against the cliffs of Hope Gap are an apt metaphor for navigating the often-cruel devastation of divorce and not necessarily knowing how to survive it.

Roadside Attractions and Screen Media released “Hope Gap” in select U.S. cinemas on March 6, 2020. The movie’s digital and VOD release date is May 8, 2020.

Copyright 2017-2024 Culture Mix
CULTURE MIX