Rosario Dawson

Ash Wednesday (2002)

I decided to dig deep for this review, settling on a movie I watched as a broke grad student while cat-sitting for my professor. For someone who wrote expertly on Julia Kristeva and casually brought up Jacques Derrida, she had a pretty shit DVD collection, one I burned through instead of sweating over my thesis. Hence, this is me, ten years later.

Maybe it’s appropriate then that I’m writing about Ash Wednesday. I feel like I’m resurrecting something that should be left for dead, much like the main character in this movie. The film apparently screened in just two theaters, limping on to a lonely DVD afterlife in places as far-flung as Hong Kong. Similarly, Sean Sullivan (Elijah Wood) is resigned to a wayfarer’s existence after killing three men in a bar on Ash Wednesday in 1980. He does this to protect his older brother, Francis Xavier (Edward Burns), who is involved with the Irish American gangs of Hell’s Kitchen. Everyone assumes that Sean met a bloody end, but he was instead ferried away by Francis with help from the parish priest. Exactly three years later, word gets around that Sean is back from the dead, and the news doesn’t sit well with anyone.

You might think there’s more to the story, but this is really the entirety of the plot. Most of the movie is either people telling Francis his brother is in town or Francis telling them the opposite. Even when Sean finally emerges, the two continue to argue about his unexpected appearance. Since it takes so damn long for everyone to figure out what’s going on, the movie is stuck in limbo until Sean and Francis’s enemies decide to seek revenge. That’s when the brothers also realize that Sean needs to hightail it out of town if he wants to live another day. But this time he’s not going without his girl, Grace (Rosario Dawson). It’s going to be tricky to convince her though because no one bothered to let her in on the truth all these years. Not only did she believe she was a widow, but she also raised her son thinking his father was dead.

I’d hoped for something more gripping from Burns, doing quadruple duty as writer-director-producer-star. He had a much lauded indie hit, The Brothers McMullen, back in the mid-1990s and seems to have been trying to replicate that success ever since. This movie is another one of his contributions to the Irish American Catholic mythology, though more along the lines of Coppola or Scorsese. Unfortunately, the story never feels rooted in a real community. There’s plenty of religious imagery and the tone is one of perpetual Lent. You also have your Maggies and Murphys and even a bar called the Blarney Stone. But all this is window dressing to hide the fact that there’s not much there, not a deep meditation on Lenten sacrifice or a intimate portrait of Irish American identity. The casting is wildly off mark too. I’m sure there’s a good movie waiting to be made in which Burns, Wood, and Dawson star as a family unit, but this is not the one.

Released: 2002
Prod: Edward Burns, Margot Bridger
Dir: Edward Burns
Writer: Edward Burns
Cast: Edward Burns, Elijah Wood, Rosario Dawson, Oliver Platt, James Handy
Time: 99 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2017

10 Years

10 years

A high school classmate recently lamented that our ten year reunion had come and gone without celebration and that our fifteenth was probably not going to happen. Classmates wondered if anyone had the energy between work and babies to put one together, and I wondered if in the age of Facebook and other social media, people even organize high school reunions anymore. There was something dated about seeing friends get really excited about seeing friends, as if status updates, texting, and video chat didn’t exist. But maybe more to point, real life interaction is a cause for enthusiasm these days, and that is, for better or worse, a good reason to hold reunions and maybe even to make a film about one.

10 Years does everything you would expect from the genre, relying on familiar character types and situations. Jake (Channing Tatum) anchors the piece as a mortgage broker and erstwhile prom king. He wants to propose to his girlfriend (Jenna Dewan-Tatum) but has been waffling for no good reason. The unexpected appearance of his ex Mary (Rosario Dawson) is made more awkward when she arrives with her husband (Ron Livingston).

Jake also reconnects with his circle of friends, including high school sweethearts Cully (Chris Pratt) and Sam (Ari Graynor). They are married with children, but Cully still acts like one when he gets drunk. This results in obnoxious and failed attempts to apologize to former classmates for being a bully. High fliers Marty (Justin Long) and AJ (Max Minghella) don’t fare too well either. Though they are living deluxe, they don’t seem to have progressed past a college mentality and spend the night trying to show off to the hot girl Anna (Lynn Collins). When that doesn’t work, they end up pulling a prank you probably tried in grade school.

A few thankfully come off as well adjusted adults. Musician Reeves (Oscar Isaac) is the one who made it big. Despite his fame, he still has a crush on loner Elise (Kate Mara), and the two spend the evening in simmering flirtation. Meanwhile, Scott (Scott Porter) is happily settled in Japan with a positive attitude and few regrets. I can’t say this is the case for everyone, but way to take one for the expat team.

There are too many characters for any one to progress beyond a label, even ten years on. Also, the added presence of two non-white characters only serves to develop the others. Peter (Aaron Yoo) gets the brunt of Cully’s abuse while Andre (Anthony Mackie) emphasizes his white friend’s (Brian Geraghty) sliding scale of blackness. Still, a few performances stand out; Collins is in fine Juilliard form as the prom queen whose happily ever after turned out differently than she expected, and even Tatum appears judiciously restrained as the de facto central character.

The pedestrian nature of this film ends up being its saving grace. Unlike other reunion movies, 10 Years doesn’t strain itself to recreate an era or to make overwhelming assessments about its characters’ lives. It allows them to casually reveal some flaws and successes while hiding others. The best thing about it is its aching averageness, which better approximates not only a high school reunion but real life. No one is really a stunner, and in the Facebook age where people thrive on the pretense of perfection, it’s satisfying to see that most of us are just like everyone else. We still want to fit in, we are still trying to sort out our lives, and we still care about our friends. Maybe your own ten year reunion was more exciting, but for those of us who have yet to attend one, this movie is a fine substitute.

“Never Had” penned and sung by Oscar Isaac

Released: 2011
Prod: Marty Bowen, Reid Carolin, Wyck Godfrey, Channing Tatum
Dir: Jamie Linden
Writer: Jamie Linden
Cast: Channing Tatum, Rosario Dawson, Chris Pratt, Oscar Isaac, Justin Long, Max Minghella, Kate Mara, Lynn Collins, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Ari Graynor, Scott Porter, Brian Geraghty, Anthony Mackie, Aubrey Plaza, Aaron Yoo, Nick Zano, Ron Livingston
Time: 100 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2014