September 21, 2014

The Impossible: Moving family drama

As we enter Oscar season — and the best films of the year fill theaters — the Reel Dad checks out the nutritional value of the nominees. This week’s pick is the family drama, The Impossible, for which Naomi Watts is a Best Actress contender.

As parents, we do everything we can to keep our children safe. Nothing frightens like a situation that might put a family member at risk. And, any time a family member faces potential danger, the instinct to protect kicks in. Of a parent’s many priorities, safety is number one.

The Impossible reminds us how parents put themselves at risk for the safety of their children as it recreates the Tsunami tragedy of 2004 in Southeast Asia. Like so many families, Maria, Henry and their three children board a flight to a beach for a holiday vacation. As with many families, they juggle the pressures of careers, consider options for their futures, and worry about what’s happening back at work. And, like others trying to take time off, they try to resist smart phones and emails. They simply hope this opportunity to relax offers time to reflect and a chance to refresh. What they don’t know is, within moments, their lives will forever change when the tsunami hits the coast of Thailand.

With the visual immediacy of an action film, and the narrative integrity of a documentary, The Impossible tells its story in great visual detail and emotional intensity. We are, at first, surrounded by the horror of the event, as people try to survive, quickly followed by the heroics of saving others and, ultimately, hoping to reconnect with family members. Director Juan Antonio Bayona creatively blends live action and digital imagery to frame the film in a most realistic context. 

Unlike the disaster movies of the 1970s, however, the director refuses to let the tragedy overwhelm the humanity. He remembers this is, essentially, the story of any family trying to hold on to each other. That it happens during such a significant event makes the effort all that more heroic. By spending so much screen time on the storm, he establishes the horror of the situation, but shortcuts the development of the characters. That leaves it up to the actors to fill in the gaps.

Fortunately, the cast is up to the task. Naomi Watts, too often overlooked for awards, reaches beyond the words in the script to make Maria a vital, inspiring woman. While the screenplay could do more to develop the character, Watts’ instincts make it easy for us to get to know the character. This remarkable actress knows how to use every moment to develop a fully realized performance. As with her stunning work the Academy ignored in Fair Game and Mother and Child, Watts creates a character so real we cannot forget about her. Fortunately, this year, the Oscar voters remembered. But there was no room on the nominee lists for Ewan McGregor and Tom Holland who also bring their under-written characters to life.

The movie is, ultimately, difficult to forget, and moments make us wonder how we might react in such a situation. While we may never find ourselves on such a beach on such a day, we can’t ever predict what protection our children may need. The lessons of The Impossible remind any parent of the priorities we maintain as we care for our children.

Film Nutritional Value

The Impossible

* Content: High. The details of the disaster and the survival efforts that follow give us a lot to chew on; if only the characters were as compelling as the visuals.

* Entertainment: Medium. Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor and Tom Holland fill in the blanks the screenplay leaves to engage us in the people.

* Message: High. As parents, nothing is more important than the safety of our children, and we do everything we can to protect them.

* Relevance: High. Any opportunity to talk with older children about what the challenges that natural disasters can create can be worthwhile.

* Opportunity for Dialogue: High. You and your older children will have a lot to consider as your absorb what this family tries to endure.

(The Impossible is rated PG-13 for intense realistic disaster sequences, including disturbing injury images and brief nudity. The film runs 114 minutes.)

4 Popcorn Buckets

This Week’s Movie Menu

What’s on your family’s movie menu this week? 

Choosing what films to offer is a lot like planning what meals to serve. And all the choices on television make it easy to savor something you will enjoy at the same time you nourish the mind, heart and body. 

This week, broadcast and cable stations offer a range of nutritious movies. Here are a few choices.

The marvelous Meryl Streep creates a most thoughtful examination of aging in The Iron Lady showing Saturday on Showtime at 6:45 pm. In her fascinating portrayal of Margaret Thatcher, the longest-serving Prime Minister in British history, this most accomplished actress reaches beyond a standard recreation of a political figure to develop a multi-layered portrayal of a woman in emotional torment. This former world leader knows, on one level, who she is and what she thinks. But, as she ages, she simply can’t find that woman, no matter how thoughtfully she may search. Streep’s complex performance is one of the most compelling of her career and, deservedly, was brought her a third Academy Award.

Steven Spielberg, the man who has given us so many memorable moments at the movies, offers a daring recreation of movies of the past with his moving War Horse at 1:45 pm, Saturday, on Showtime. Instead of telling the story with the sensibilities of today, or returning to the period of its World War I setting, Spielberg creates his highly personal vision of the ultimate movie epic of the mid century. With every painstaking visual detail that only a master director can command, Spielberg returns us to a marvelous time in Hollywood when the epic was king. And he gives us a most entertaining time at the movies.

The Shawshank Redemption, airing Saturday at 8 p.m. on Spike, offers a more serious message. This modern classic is unique among movies set in prisons because it avoids portraying the prison as a world removed from the world. Instead we believe in this community as a living place where people reside. They just happen to be there for specific reasons, and determined lengths of time, during which they do particular tasks they are assigned. This movie is less about the environment that could define them as it is about the world they create within those walls and the hope they bring to each day to find a way to get out and live free. Morgan Freeman and Timothy Robbins star in this moving drama.

Who ever thought Marlon Brando could sing? If you only think of this great actor as Vito in The Godfather or Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire take a look at Guys and Dolls, a musical from 1955, airing on Turner Classic Movies at 5:15 p.m. Saturday. This movie version of the famed Broadway hit features Brando as Sky Masterson, a smooth talking gambler who moves and shakes with the best of them in New York City. Only when he meets the sincere and naēve Sarah Brown, played by surprise singer Jean Simmons, does he meet his romantic match. Brando may not always hit the notes, nor dance the most convincing steps, but he always has the swagger. And he seems to have a lot of fun.

Of course, fun is often on Robin Williams’ agenda, as he scores a comedic highpoint as a man who wants to spend time with his children in Mrs. Doubtfire, broadcasting Friday at 8 p.m. on AMC. Using every vocal and physical trick he knows, the Academy Award-winning actor shines when the soon-to-be-divorced father pretends to be the nanny the troubled family can adore. Even if the core of this comedy is a tinge bitter — and the creators make Sally Field’s ex-wife character a bit of a shrew — the ultimate outcome is pure entertainment thanks to Williams’ comic brilliance and Field’s strong support. Together they make us believe in the extremes.

Serving nutritious movies can be as easy as turning on the television. And be sure, as you watch together, to share what you observe, question and consider. Watching movies together can prompt valuable family discussions.