Nostalgia waves tend to skip the ‘60s, preferring the rockin’ ‘50s or the boom box ‘70s to the few guitar-strumming years when everything came undone.
The earthbound universe Howard Goldberg loosens in “Eden,” may explain it: The shorthand of 1965--when rebellion at the coat-and-tie Mt. Eden Academy meant singing “Silent Night” while everyone else recites the daily hymn--provides none of the usual comfort of cliche, though it is full of familiar types, circa mid-'60s, who never quite rise above their symbolic burdens.
The result is a disturbing movie with a final exam’s worth of unanswered question.
Goldberg’s decision to root his very ‘90s story about spiritual awakening in the frayed, but still rockbound Mt. Eden--beautifully rendered, in an episodic, low-budget way--is distracting. Helen Kunen’s descent into out-of-body escape from physical challenges (she has multiple sclerosis) and emotional ones (the draining expectations of a traditional, mom-at-home) would carry “Eden” without the insertion of an academic love triangle.
The other sides: Bill Kunen (Dylan Walsh), busy teaching economics at his alma mater and turning lazy boys into tomorrow’s leaders, doesn’t realize the times are a-changing and his sons and his daughters--to say nothing of his wife--are beyond his command.
And Dave Edgerton (Sean Patrick Flanery), who wants to be a writer like Richard Farina. While he’s feeding his soul, he’s also flunking out.
Meanwhile, Helen (Joanna Going) keeps finding excuses to fall asleep, liberating her soul from her worn out body and empowering it to find--what? That we are but small pulses of energy in a large, fuzzy-focus/light-show world out there? And if our world is but one of billions, how significant is our shell of skin and bone and braces?
Bill is a selfish, whining lock-jawed idiot; Dave is a selfish, whining, smartass. Neither changes. Helen’s struggle is so internal that her epiphany comes while she’s in a coma.
Most destructive to “Eden’s” promise of new age transformation is Goldberg’s failure to have his characters pay any price for their experience.
It’s as if, suddenly, the hard choices demanded by a spiritual odyssey is replaced with simple acceptance--an unfortunate invasion of 1950s values.
* MPAA rating: R for language and a scene of sexuality. Times guidelines: A scene involving marijuana use and a little heartfelt cursing shouldn’t keep teenagers away.
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Joanna Going: Helen Kunen
Dylan Walsh: Bill Kunen
Sean Patrick Flanery: Dave Edgerton
Sean Christensen: Rick
Edward O’Blenis Jr.: Sonny
Wall Street Pictures presents a film written and directed by Howard Goldberg. Produced by Harvey Kahn and Chip Duncan. Executive producer Robert William Landaas. Co-producer Todd Hoffman. Director of photography Hubert Taczanowski. Music Brad Fiedel. Special effects Gene Warren. Editor Steve Nevius. Art director Philip J. Keyer. Costume designer Elizabeth Kaye. Music supervisor Robin Urdang. Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes.
* Exclusively at the Monica 4-Plex, 1332 2nd St., Santa Monica, (310) 394-9741.