Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Neglected Gems #7: Childhood's End (1997)

It’s a funny thing about movies. They may get critical acclaim, even score some box office success and years later they’re barely mentioned by anyone or even remembered. And there’s often no discernible reason for their fates. I really can’t tell why Neil Jordan’s terrific and accessible heist movie The Good Thief, which got good reviews when it came out in 2002, has pretty much vanished into the ether. Or why Steve Jordan’s powerful documentary Stevie (2002) failed to match the impact of his earlier 1994 doc Hoop Dreams. Or even why The Lord of the Rings’s Peter Jackson’s mock 1995 documentary Forgotten Silver didn’t become the cult hit it should have been. In any case, here is the latest entry in a series of disparate movies you really ought to see.

A memorable debut from Jeff Lipsky, co-founder of distributor October Films (Life is Sweet, Breaking the Waves) turned filmmaker, Childhood's End has more in common with frank, uncompromising European cinema than its softer American model. Following a group of Minneapolis teenagers, all on the cusp of adult responsibilities and challenges, Childhood's End sets out to paint a dark but still optimistic portrait of contemporary American youth. 

It's loosely plotted, picking up and dropping its characters in turn, but it never feels underwritten or sloppy. The film, which features Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie) in a small role, concentrates on two main strands: the love affair between Greg (Sam Trammell, True Blood), a hotshot young photo editor, and Evelyn (Cameron Foord), a forthright older woman; and the budding relationship between Evelyn's cynical daughter Denise (Colleen Werthmann) and the painfully shy Rebecca (Heather Gottlieb). Childhood's End is a strongly presented, sexually explicit drama, strikingly well acted and often startling in its intensity. It should have marked Lipsky as a talent to watch but the film barely made a ripple and his subsequent movies, Flannel Pajamas (2006), Once More with Feeling (2009) and Twelve Thirty (2010), none of which have played in my neck of the woods, were similarly neglected.

Shlomo Schwartzberg is a film critic, teacher and arts journalist based in Toronto . He teaches regular courses at Ryerson University's LIFE Institute, and in September will be teaching a course on the work of Steven Spielberg. Also in the fall, he'll be teaching Genre Movies at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre in Toronto .

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