SXSW FILM 2015
By Don Simpson | March 20, 2015
Director: Patrick Wang
Writers: Patrick Wang (screenplay), Leah Hager Cohen (novel)
Starring: Wendy Moniz, Trevor St. John, Sonya Harum, Oona Laurence, Jeremy Shinder, Mike Faist, Rachel Dratch, Chris Conroy, Jenna Cooperman, Henry Gagliardi, Theo Iyer
Ricky (Wendy Moniz) and John (Trevor St. John) Ryries struggle to return to their normal lives in the aftermath of the death of their newborn child. The seemingly insurmountable grief also gravely affects ten-year-old Biscuit (Oona Laurence) and thirteen-year-old Paul (Jeremy Shinder), who deal with the intensity of the situation in their own unique ways. By grieving independently, the four family members grow increasingly oblivious to each other. In the midst of all of the melancholic tension, John’s estranged daughter from a previous relationship — Jess (Sonya Harum) — appears back into his life, hindered by an unplanned pregnancy and looking for a helping hand. Along with a kind outsider, Gordie (Mike Faist), Jess helps the Ryries family get out of their own heads and take notice of the world around them.
Adapted by writer-director Patrick Wang from Leah Hager Cohen’s 2011 novel, The Grief of Others touches on several of the same themes as Wang’s feature-length debut, In the Family. Though staying clear of gender issues this time around, Wang uses The Grief of Others as a vessel to further contemplate the [de]construction of family following a traumatic moment. For the most part, Wang maintains a cold and stoic distance from his subjects, as if approaching filmmaking by way of psychology. An astutely profound rendering of human behavior, Wang frames most of the scenes in static wide-shots, permitting us to observe the Ryries via a clinically disconnected perspective. Reminiscent of a theatrical stage, we watch the events from a single vantage point; the style keenly accentuates the isolating nature of grief and the haunting stillness within the Ryries household, resulting in an eerie and unnerving tone. Most of the melodrama is toned down dramatically with softly rendered conversations, allowing the few heated moments the contrasted intensity that they truly deserve. Compared to the way that Hollywood filmmakers have portrayed similar scenarios, Wang’s directorial style comes off as practically avant garde (akin to the 1990s oeuvres of Atom Egoyan and Todd Haynes).