Making a film about two characters over the age of 65 is a bold and unconventional choice, especially for a 27-year-old directing her first feature. But "Away From Her" demonstrates actress Sarah Polley's ("Dawn of the Dead") natural filmmaking prowess and gift for legitimately moving storytelling.
Polley adapts acclaimed writer Alice Munro's short story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain," which follows a couple confronted with Alzheimer's disease after nearly 50 years of marriage. The illness shatters the comfortable lives of Grant (Canadian vet Gordon Pinsent) and Fiona (Oscar winner Julie Christie) and reopens old wounds from their happy, but far from perfect, relationship. It also forces Fiona into a nursing home where the pair meets a couple dealing with similar circumstances ("X-Men: The Last Stand's" Michael Murphy and "Moonstruck's" Olympia Dukakis).
If "Away From Her" sounds like some sort of "Hallmark Hall of Fame" presentation—or "The Notebook" minus the Ryan Gosling/Rachel McAdams sex appeal—the reality is anything but. Polley's film is mature but not boring, wise but not pretentious and romantic but not unbelievable.
All of the characters, including a few other key employees and residents of the home, are beautifully written and expertly played, but the movie belongs to Christie and, especially, Pinsent. A cinema icon thanks to her roles in "Doctor Zhivago" and "McCabe & Mrs. Miller," Christie's work here as a woman slowly disappearing into the past is riveting. Still striking in her late 60s, she's perfectly suited to the role of a wife so ideal that her husband can't bear the thought of being "away from her."
Pinsent makes the heartbreak of that inevitable occurrence utterly devastating as Grant gradually becomes the film's true focus. He's a revelation in a complex role that encompasses feelings of guilt, frustration, compassion and devotion within a relationship that has survived for decades.
The maturity in all aspects of "Away From Her" feels like even more of an anomaly in the summer movie season. Fortunately, the film's resonance suggests staying power far beyond opening weekend.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times