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WINTER SOLSTICE

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Anthony LaPaglia, Aaron Stanford, Mark Webber, Allison Janney, Michelle Monaghan, Ron Livingston
Director: Josh Sternfeld
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 90 Minutes
Release Date: September 13, 2005

Film **1/2

A film like Winter Solstice should get some level of credit for being observant in its characters. It paints a portrait of a family trying to come together in the aftermath of tragedy. Had the film been structured in an alternate way, we may have had something here.

In the mean time, what lies here is a family drama that doesnít accomplish anything that a superior piece like Ordinary People didnít accomplish more than twenty years ago. The story involves the Winters family, whoís constantly in denial of their domestic problems brought forth by the death of the mother of the family. Jim Winters (Anthony LaPaglia) is the widow, and it seems as if heís lost a certain grasp on his two sons, Gabe (Aaron Stanford) and Pete (Mark Webber).

Jim easily assumes that, illustrated by their lack of communication, his sons blame him for the loss, which is almost always the case. However, the fact is Pete was with the mother in the very auto accident that claimed her life. That was five years ago, and the family has drifted apart ever since.

Jim is determined to do whatever he can to bring the family back together, though he faces obstacles concerning his two sons. Peteís grades in high school arenít something to shout about and he soon finds himself in summer school. Jim addresses this to his son and advises him to think about straightening up his academics so he can graduate high school

The bigger obstacle concerns the oldest son, Gabe, who has announced to his father, as well as devoted girlfriend, Stacey (Michelle Monaghan), that he intends to move down to Tampa, which wouldnít qualify so much as bad news if he had any actual life goals. He doesnít; heís simply moving there to room with a friend, and feels that sunny Tampa would be better than any other place to live.

The only thing that brightens Jimís life is the arrival of a new neighbor. Her name is Molly (Allison Janney) and her likable charm catches his attention. After helping her move into her home, she invites him over for dinner He needs this sort of thing in his life since he hasnít looked at another woman in the five years since.

I almost feel guilty in not giving this film a full out pass since it does have all the elements for a perfect quiet drama. The flaw with Winter Solstice lies solely in its structuring. New subplots seem to arrive just when weíre focused on another problem in the story. At with a 90 minute running time, too many intersecting plotlines could easily result in flaws, as is the case here.

Writer/director Josh Sternfeld has what it takes to make a superb character driven film. Itís a good thing that most critics have praised this film, it will give Sternfeld a second shot, and hopefully a better one. The one thing that he should keep in mind is constructing a more effective story arc the next time around.

Video ***

This anamorphic handling from Paramount is nicely executed in its quiet look. The suburban setting appears terrifically in the picture. Though youíll have to excuse brief flaws in a couple of dark sequences, this presentation is, for the most part, wonderfully handled with exceptional colors.

Audio ***

The 5.1 mix does do what it can with such a pure dialogue-driven film. Words are heard most wonderfully, and the presentation does get a boost from a lively acoustic score by composer John Leventhal. Not a sound mix to blow one away, but one that will no doubt satisfy the viewer.

Features Ĺ*

This disc contains only a lineup of bonus previews.

Summary:

Though it tries really hard to break conventional barriers, Winter Solstice suffers only by way of an unfocused structure. Despite the strong performances, itís hard to ignore the fact that so many movies in the past, like this one, have been far more gripping and powerful.

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