More than picket fences

People often paint pretty pictures of small towns in their minds: cute, quaint little houses with white picket fences, charming Mom and Pop convenience stores and happy families that lead their simple lives problem-free. David Gordon Green’s latest film, “Snow Angels,” paints a very different picture of life in a small town, showing audiences that while these townsfolk may know one another very well (like in most small towns), these relationships might not be so healthy.

The movie opens with Arthur (Michael Angarano) playing his trombone at marching band practice as he is admirably watched by
his new (and first) love, Lila (Olivia Thirlby). As they shyly glance at one another, gun shots ring out across the entire football field in which the band is practicing. The film then takes audiences back a few weeks to replay the events that led to this terrible tragedy.

The film documents three relationships, all of which are connected: first, there is Arthur’s relationship with Lila, which is captured beautifully; rarely does the cinema captivate the innocence and vulnerability of young love like Green does. Unlike the rich relationship Arthur and Lila share, Arthur’s parents cannot figure out their relationship. His father, played brilliantly by Griffin Dunne, cannot decide if he wants to stay a part of the family that loves him so much, or live a life of his own; first he moves out of the family’s house and into a rather barren house of his own, then begins casually dating other women, only to return to his lonely home and create mix tapes to hopefully win back his bitter wife.

Arthur’s family is the Brady Bunch compared to the broken marriage of Arthur’s old babysitter, Annie (Kate Beckinsale), and her husband, Glenn (Sam Rockwell). Glenn is a recovering alcoholic and born-again Christian who repeatedly returns to his old addictions and violent behavior, regardless of the fact that he wants to mend his relationship with his wife. At first, Annie tolerates Glenn and his endless attempts to make things right, until his weaknesses take precedence over his good intentions. Desperate to protect herself and the couple’s four-year-old daughter from his harmful behavior, Annie’s anger only instigates more wrong from her husband, eventually leading to the movie’s doleful ending.

The casting of Beckinsale in the film might raise many questions of credibility. However, she captures all of the sorrow, pain, guilt and depression Annie is carrying so brilliantly, it is hard to believe that this is the same actress who has contributed to a few box-office flops. The film might also appear aimless to audiences at the start, but as they are constantly learning new things about the characters, the plot becomes more apparent. The only thing that seems incomplete about the movie is the ending (which ties into the beginning). The two loud gunshots heard early on are not later defined as well as they could be.

The best thing about “Snow Angels” is that it is not too artsy to the point of clueless interpretations; however, unlike the sugar-coated, cookie-cutter images of small-town life, the film is raw and real.

3.5 out of 4 stars