Picks and Pans Review: Unstrung Heroes
This is MacDowell's best acting since her breakthrough performance in 1989's sex, lies and videotape. She plays a housewife and mother dying of cancer in the early '60s. Unstrung Heroes, a very tender, very addled movie, is actually about how Watt, as MacDowell's 12-year-old son struggling to come to grips with her illness, chooses to spend more and more time with his father's two extremely eccentric brothers (Richards and Chaykin). But MacDowell always remains the emotional center of the movie: quiet, sad and receding—a rose reluctantly folding up her petals.
The rest of the movie could have used some weeding. Actress and now director Diane Keaton, whose previous directing credits include Heaven, a doofy little documentary about the afterlife, and Wildflowers, a well-received Lifetime drama about an epileptic girl, has given the movie an unusual tone and style that, with a few-spins of the pinwheel, would tilt into the surreal. The strange uncles' apartment, with its prettily lit arrangements of memorabilia and thrift-shop bric-a-brac, is somehow pristine and uncluttered. The place looks as if an interior decorator were given too big a budget and told, "Think rat's nest."
And those uncles! Richards scampers about, bellowing humorously inappropriate comments—in short, doing what he already does on Seinfeld, except that here he is supposed to be clinically paranoid, constantly adding up lists of his supposed enemies. The performance is in the twinkly old tradition of Jimmy Stewart in Harvey. The bewhiskered Chaykin is quieter, and sweeter, but just as artificially cute. He's Harvey the bunny as a human. (PG)