The Life Before Her Eyes (2008) / Drama-Mystery
aka In Bloom
MPAA Rated: R for violent and disturbing content, sexuality, language and brief drug use
Running time: 90 min
Cast: Uma Thurman, Evan Rachel Wood, Eva Amurri, Brett Cullen, Gabrielle Brennan, Oscar Isaac, Jack Gilpin. John Magaro
Director: Vadim Perelman
Screenplay: Emil Stern (based on the novel by Laura Kasischke
Vadim Perelman, who tackled a tough drama with mixed results, though many other critics champion it, in his debut feature, The House of Sand and Fog, delves into another complicated and largely bleak subject in Emil Stern's adaptation (his first) of the 2002 Laura Kasischke novel of the same name. Within the construct of the somewhat surreal tale, Kasischke's story explores the mind of a bratty and confused teenager who grows up to discover that she wasn't always such a good person, and the ensuing guilt carries consequences that shape everything that she is and could ever be.
Uma Thurman (My Super Ex-Girlfriend, Prime) is the primary star, playing Diana McFee, who works as a teacher as an adult in the very school that, just fifteen years prior, had been the site of a major tragedy to the small town she lives in, where one of her associates, Michael (Magaro), takes an automatic weapon to the school and starts firing and killing nearly everyone he sees. Evan Rachel Wood (Running with Scissors, The Reef) plays Diana as a teenager, and the one flashback that causes the most guilt happens in the girls' bathroom where she and her best friend, and total opposite on the moral compass, Maureen (Amurri, Saved!) are stuck in when the shooter confronts them, claiming he is going to kill one of them.
Through the course of the story, Diana either reminisces about the events that shaped her life as a youth, or she projects forward what her life might be like when she grows up, and soon she begins to see parallels in her own life (bratty daughter, infidelity, etc.) that make her see just how shallow and self-centered she had been all along, not worthy of the life she has led.
The Life Before Her Eyes is a curious mix of straightforward drama and modern-day gimmick film, and being that the issue of who the shooter ends up killing always stops in Diana's flashback prior to it actually happening, the gimmick isn't really much of one, especially if you've seen your share of these kinds of films involving a tragic life event. The title itself spoils it. Its lack of a surprise factor is a bit of a let down, but there are some finer elements to the film, particularly the performances of Thurman and Wood, that make this deliriously agonizing melodrama worthwhile.
Gorgeously shot by Pawel Edelman (Ray, The Pianist), who complements Perelman's slow and deliberate style quite well, The Life Before Her Eyes works better as a mood piece, and a coming of age story of sorts, and probably should have remained as such in order to achieve any sense of resonance other than to be a gloomy, drawn-out "Twilight Zone" episode.
©2008 Vince Leo