How do you market a film like this? It looks from the cover like Miramax wanted people to think it was a comedy (it isn't) and that Marisa Tomei's character is sexy (she isn't - the character, that is). But really, it's a character study, about an aging woman, Mildred (Gena Rowlands), whose children have left the nest, and what happens after she starts taking care of the neighbor boy after Tomei's character kicks her husband out while also having to work a late shift.
For a time, I was convinced I had seen the movie back when it was in the theaters, but it slowly dawned on me that there was too much I didn't remember. I've concluded that it must have been the trailer I'd seen, and that, with no action scenes to speak of, they had merely condensed the first act. As I think about it, that about the best kind of trailer I can think of for this film. Maybe a completely invented sort of thing, featuring no shots from the film, would draw more people, but that would be as misleading as, well, that image of the cover (or maybe it's the poster).
At first, it seems like the story of Mildred and J.J. (the kid, played by Jake Lloyd), then maybe a contrast between the parenting styles of Mildred and Monica (Tomei), which could be described as the difference between an Ivy League and a trade school. Mildred may have her own way of doing things, and Monica's chain-smoking, foul-mouthed and free attitude seems the direct opposite, but Mildred has a very exact sense of her own place and never for a moment does she seem to give it a second thought.
What we actually have on our hands here is a most subtle story of transformation. Mildred is drawn out of her sheltered existence so slowly, it's easy to miss. Each little step helps to bring a greater sense of identity, and the thought of the path she's been leading becomes, quite rightly, a silly one. The ending is hardly a predictable one, but rather the right one, the kind that rings so true that all other possible endings become unimaginable.
Unhook the Stars is written and directed by Rowland's son, Nick Cassavetes, also an actor and the son of the more famous John Cassavetes. This was his first directorial effort, and he succeeds by concentrating on performance and not letting the camera get in the way. It's very much a mental picture, and thus as an audience we need to share the important moments of the characters at the same speed they experience them, not race through like some kind of amusement park ride.
As near as I can figure, the leading demographic here is probably the same as for Shirley Valentine, but while that's a fine film for its type, Unhook the Stars outshines it with similar, but more difficult, themes.
I'm sure there's plenty of people out there, used to a homogenized Hollywood product, who won't relate to this film, and find it unbearably boring. No words I can write here will carry as much weight as seeing for yourself, simply by being open to this kind of picture.
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