Personal Effects is the story of Linda and Walter, two very different people whose paths would never have crossed were they not both close family members of people who suffered violent deaths. Linda’s husband was shot and killed. Walter’s sister was raped, beaten and left naked by the river (and killed). If watching that sounds like a fun way to spend a few hours, get help. The big question for me going into this film was “Can Ashton Kutcher possibly be any good as a serious actor.” Having seen The Butterfly Effect, my first response is “Hell no.” But I can’t help liking Kutcher, and I keep hoping he’ll prove us all wrong. My review is after the jump:
As it turns out, much of his performance is painful to watch. He is awkward and withdrawn, often struggles to get words out, and manages to almost completely kill his innate charm and charisma. But this is probably exactly what director David Hollander wanted. And Kutcher delivers. His character is emotional traumatized, and doesn’t know what he’s doing or where he’s going. So in this instance, painful to watch is a complement. Later, for the few brief moments in the film when Kutcher begins to open up and “heal” he is a joy to watch. But you have to wait a long time to get there. And the happiness is short lived.
Pheiffer turns in a great performance, but no one is surprised. Nor are we surprised at Kathy Bates excellent turn as Gloria, Walters grieving mother. She wonderfully embodies a woman who has already lost a daughter to violence and feels she is losing a son to grief, despite her best efforts to help him heal. The unexpected performance comes from Spencer Hudson playing Clay, Linda’s deaf and mute son. He gives a strong performance, which mirrors Kutchers in many aspects. Watching Clay (who can’t talk) and Walter (who can, but just sucks at it) interact is a slow but fascinating process.
The action is slow and at times a tad heavy handed, but it mostly feels true to life. For that Hollander (who also wrote the script from a short story by Rick Moody) should be applauded. The first scene is a flash forward which shows Clay behind bars. It is then revealed early in the film that he has access to a gun. A mental guessing game inevitably starts as one contemplates the violence that has occurred, and how it will effect and/or cause the violence we know must be coming soon. The ended feels forced, but doesn’t negate the solid acting and steady directing.
This is a well made film but I can’t help but wondering who the target audience is. It’s not “enjoyable” and didn’t have a high enough profile to flirt with Oscars, or even Oscar noms. Perhaps, strangely enough, it is just a group of working professionals trying to make an honest piece of contemplative film.
The film has only one special feature, a short making of, that’s interesting, but relies to heavily on clips from the film.