by Jay Seaver
SCREENED AT THE 2009 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL: "Bomber", when you get right down to it, is the sort of movie where one can see very clearly that if the characters just did what any normal, sane person would do, things would go pretty smoothly. That they don't is okay for the first half or so, because the results are fast-paced and funny, but when the movie comes straight out and tells you what it's about, well, that's not so great, even if it is, ironically, perhaps more realistic.Ross (Shane Taylor) gets up early, telling girlfriend Leslie (Sara Kessel) that he will be back later to help her with an event she's planning. He's promised he would see his parents off Alistar (Benjamin Whitrow) and Valerie (Eileen Nicholas) on a long-planned trip to Germany. His octogenarian father wrecks his car before even getting out of the garage (despite his meticulous preparation), though, and after the next cut we see Ross driving them through the Netherlands in his work van. Stuffy Alistar complains about Leslie's constant calls on the cell phone (and everything else), but the situation doesn't exactly improve when those calls come to an end.
"It's not really so bad to be in the car with one's parents."
The story hangs on a decision that doesn't necessarily make a lot of sense - would (a) Ross actually decide to drive them right then, or would they (b) wait a couple weeks until the car is repaired, or (c) take a train? Once they've decided on (a), would they perhaps be a little more accommodating of Ross, rather than insisting on taking B roads or stopping at several things Valerie wants to see? Naturally, if they did, there might not be a movie to be had, but that's okay - even as adults, we can find ourselves subject to our parents' whims, and parents will often have a hard time accepting that their kids know what they're doing. And the action of it is pretty amusing - Whitrow and Taylor are a well-drawn pair of opposites, the stiff-upper-lip member of the Greatest Generation and the touchy-feely modern man, and Ms. Nicholas is just well-meaning enough to annoy both of them in turn.
So, that's going pretty well. They get to Germany, the hints about why Alistar wanted to make this trip pay off in a nice way, and then things kind of go off the rails. Because, you see, this is a movie about how families often have a difficult time communicating, and rather than having them discover things on their own, we start to get lectures. Here, we are told, is a technique used in couple's counseling. Try this, it's really helpful. Remember, it's important to feel free to say what you think. Even setting aside that no-one really likes to get a lecture in the middle of their comedy, the dynamic we'd seen earlier had the characters each at some extreme or another, and as it plays out in the last act, instead of everybody moving closer together, one has the right attitude, enough so to tell the other two what they should be doing (we're apparently not supposed to say "physician, heal thyself!").
That's too bad, because the three main characters were pretty well-balanced through the first half. Benjamin Whitrow is grumpy perfection as Alistar, the rest of his body as stiff as his upper lip. He's able to be vulnerable, but he has to take the long way round to get there, matter-of-factly giving speeches to do so. Shane Taylor, on the other hand, just lets it fly as Ross, spewing emotion in all sort of messy ways, quite over the top sometimes, but believably so. And Eileen Nicholas is nice as Valerie, who while not so buttoned-up as Alistar, likely has only been able to express emotion in terms of motherly affection, and her blossoming is actually something to behold.Valerie's asserting herself is the best part of the film's ending, in fact. I wish it could have come in a more organic way, but it's still quite the pleasant sight.
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originally posted: 03/16/09 02:31:42