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Away From Her (2006)

DVD Cover (Lions Gate)
Drama, Marriage Drama
Sarah Polley Sarah Polley
Gordon Pinsent Gordon Pinsent
Stacey LaBerge Stacey LaBerge
Julie Christie Julie Christie
Olympia Dukakis Olympia Dukakis
Deanna Dezmari Deanna Dezmari

7.6 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by bluemeanie
Added: November 22, 2007
This film has the same touches as "The Sweet Hereafter". It didn't surprise me to see the name Atom Egoyan as producer because this feels like an Atom Egoyan film, top to bottom. It possesses his same internalized emotions, wicked humor and introspective leading characters. The film was actually written and directed by Sarah Polley, who starred in "The Sweet Hereafter", the film that brought her to the attention of the indie film world. Polley has stayed primarily with independent cinema, though she took a brief sojourn to the dark side in the remake of "Dawn of the Dead", but she is back in full force here with "Away From Her", one of the first proposed Oscar contenders of the year. I never had the chance to see the film in theatres, so this is somewhat of a late review. If you remember no other films about Alzheimer's Disease, it's because there aren't many. There was a film from a few years ago called "Iris" that dealt with the disease and ended up winning an Oscar for actor Jim Broadbent, but it was more about the love story between the two title characters than the disease itself. And, while "Away From Her" also focuses on a love story, it handles the disease in a much more real and lasting way. "Away From Her" is one of the best films of the year.

Early in the film, within the first five minutes, we know that something is wrong with the character of Fiona (Julie Christie) when she puts the skillet away in the freezer. Her husband Grant (Gordon Pinsent) just smiles, watches as she leaves the room and then removes it himself. They have been married for 44-years and have lived in their current house for 20-years or so. They eventually learn that Fiona has Alzheimer's Disease, and her memory starts to fade very quickly. Fiona wants to be placed in a facility called Meadowlake because she doesn't want Grant to have to worry about taking care of her. Grant wants her to stay because, if she goes to the facility, there is a 30-day period where Grant will not be able to visit. But, Fiona gets her away and enters the facility. At the end of the 30-day period, Grant comes for a visit, only to find that Fiona really doesn't know who he is and has formed a relationship with another patient named Aubrey (Michael Murphy), whom she treats like her husband. Their affection is uncomfortable for Grant, but he still tries not to force anything on her than might upset her. When Aubrey is taken away, Fiona starts to deteriorate fast, forcing Grant to pay a visit to Aubrey's wife (Olympia Dukakis) and ask her to bring Aubrey back to the facility. They develop a bizarre relationship that goes beyond both love and grief.

This is a film based on interesting relationships. The most interesting is the one between Fiona and Grant. We know very little about them other than how long they've been married and how long they've lived in their home. Fiona makes references to Grant's infidelities when he was a teacher, and we can see from the way Grant dutifully stays by her side that he feels a little guilty for things he probably did in the past. But, he doesn't leave and he doesn't give up. You can really feel the sense of love between these two characters and just how devoted they are to one another. Another interesting relationship is between Grant and Kristen Thomson, who plays Kristy, one of the nurses in the facility. She seems to be the one person who will tell Grant the truth about everything and they become close friends. The relationship between Fiona and Aubrey is explained by the nurses and seems logical enough,and it's heartbreaking to see Grant watching his wife, basically, love another man right before his eyes. The most bizarre relationship is between Grant and Marian (Olympia Dukakis). They are brought together by their mutual loneliness and the realization that their significant others are never coming back from where they are. They both love their spouses, but also realize they can hopefully find some solace in the midst of all this sadness. What Grant does at the end of the film makes it probably the most selfless scene in the history of film.

These were characters I really cared about, brought to life by actors who really know their craft. There is no doubt that Julie Christie will land a Best Actress nomination for her role here. She has not been this amazing in years, but then again, she doesn't do a lot of work these days. She glows as Fiona, and the way she evokes our sympathy is what makes this movie work so well, so soon. The great Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent also deserves Best Actor recognition for his role as the grief-stricken man who feels like he's losing his wife in so many different ways. Pinsent is probably unfamiliar to most American audiences, but he is a very respected artist in Canada and hopefully this film will find him solid recognition in the States. Olympia Dukakis is also phenomenal in her role as the wife who still has some living left to do. Dukakis hasn't been given a role this meaty in a long time and it's nice to know she still has the chops to own it. I also want to single out Kristen Thomson and Wendy Crewson, two fine supporting actresses who really deliver in their roles as the higher-ups at the treatment facility. It's so easy to take roles like that and inject nothing into them, but they really give their all and the roles deliver, and the film is all the better for it.

Is this the best films ever made about Alzheimer's Disease? Probably so, yes. Why? Because it deals with the disease by showing us just how devastating it can be on a marriage, on a life and on the lives of those around the victim. "Away From Her" might seem like a depressing film, but I did not feel depressed having watched it. I felt a sense of warmth. This basic idea of the film is that love never dies, no matter where it is or how it's affected. The love Fiona is showing Aubrey is really just the love she has for Grant, re-directed to a different body because she can't recall what the old one looks like. I think that's what Grant eventually realizes and understands. "Away From Her" is skillfully directed by actress Sarah Polley, who is following in the grand footsteps of Atom Egoyan, from whom she obviously learned a great deal. I hope this film is remembered come Oscar time because it deserves to be. A film like this could easily be forgotten. I know Christie will be remembered, but I would love to see Pinsent acknowledged for his performance as well. This was one of the most insightful, touching and informative films of the year. It was quite nice.

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waxtadpole3657 #1: waxtadpole3657 - added 12/11/2007, 12:02 AM
I've got this at the top of my netflix. Can't wait for it to come.
waxtadpole3657 #2: waxtadpole3657 - added 12/12/2007, 10:52 PM
WOW. What a fucking wonderful movie. It's pretty heart breaking, but completely touching at the same time. Julie Christie was absolutely wonderful, and I'm happy she got an award from the National Board of Review. Gordon Pinsent was great, too. Definitely one of the best films of the year.
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