Seeking vengeance for the murder of his sister, a young man, Walter (Ashton Kutcher) arrives in town only to get sidetracked by a beautiful older woman, Linda (Michelle Pfeifer) with emotional wounds very similar to his own. As both Linda and Walter try to cope with the pain and frustration of their loss, the two bond -- their shared tragedies spawning an unlikely and beautiful romance.

Pfeiffer and Kutcher look as though their circulation has been cut off.

Some directors just don’t trust the audience. Worse, they don’t trust their material. Some, as in this case, mistake a gloomy attitude for seriousness, a slow pace, for earnestness. An adaptation of a short story called 'Mansion on the Hill’, by Rick Moody (The Ice Storm), Personal Effects is a sad romance about the redemptive power of love played out between a middle-aged woman, acted with a sparkling dignity by Michelle Pfeiffer and a twenty-something loser and loner, Ashton Kutcher. Both are grieving; Pfeiffer’s husband was shot dead; Kutcher’s sister was raped and murdered. As the movie begins, both are awaiting court verdicts for these (unrelated) crimes that they hope will give them some closure in their lives.

Directed by David Hollander the movie's tone is unrelentingly bleak. His style is pushy and hammer-like. Set in the bleak mid-west of the US (though I gather from the credits the film may have been actually done in Canada), Hollander has had the film shot in a style that looks as if the sun has been turned off. Even the actors look like they had their circulation choked off; they’re faces look pinched and drained of life. The screenplay positions their lives as not only sad but certain plot elements seem cruelly calculated to emphasise their grief. For instance, Pfeiffer’s mourning widow is reminded of her loss in her gig working to organise weddings; Kutcher performs a minimum wage number as a 'chicken", shilling for a high street take-out fast food joint! Both these plot lines offer opportunities for black comedy, but Hollander doesn’t seem to have the wit or the interest to pursue any of the possibilities beyond the obvious.

There’s a subplot about Pfeiffer’s deaf son Clay (Spencer Hudson) which is interesting, mostly because this character seems to work on emotions that have more to do with instinct and not the neat contrivances of a filmmaker struggling to a make a point.


1 hour 50 min
Wed, 01/06/2010 - 11