Writer/director Patrick Wang’s deep-tissue humanism is a treasure worth nurturing in today’s movie community. His emotionally prismatic, novelistic first feature, 2011’s “In the Family,” laid bare a fraught custody battle with uncommon grace, and his latest, “A Bread Factory,” just in cinemas, earned that overused term “intimate epic.”
In between, in 2015, Wang made “The Grief of Others,” a sincerely rendered, modest and affecting adaptation of Leah Hager Cohen’s novel about a family dealing with personal trauma, and it’s now receiving a theatrical release. At its center are the Ryries, a household of four in varying states of tension and performative normalcy in the wake of the tragic death, just after delivery, of who would have been their fifth family member.
John (Trevor St. John) and Ricky (Wendy Moniz) don’t have the same marriage, something made clear to their school-bullied teenage son (Jeremy Shinder) and untethered 10-year-old daughter (Oona Laurence). When single, pregnant twentysomething Jessica (Sonya Harum), John’s daughter from a previous relationship, shows up unexpectedly, the family’s energies are both reawakened and redirected, in ways that suggest a path to healing.
Wang approaches storytelling through the internal weather of his characters and long, fixed takes marked by naturalistic dialogue — blink and you might not catch a time-fracturing, nuanced gesture, or crucial piece of information. Harder to miss, however, in every grainy 16mm shot and heartfelt performance is the movie’s understated soul, as Wang guides us, sometimes awkwardly, usually touchingly, from isolation and secrets into understanding and connection.
‘The Grief of Others’
Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica