It was probably a decade ago when I saw my grandmother for the last time. I hadn’t seen her for a while because – as most families unfortunately do – she had been shepherd away into one of our homes after developing Alzheimer’s. Sure, I understand that, in some respects, it was for her own safety, but we all know how we secretly feel about that and things like it. Anyway, most of us had had gathered for a funeral (not hers), and she was rolled in via wheelchair and placed in a position of some modest honor. I went over and spoke with her; I’m not quite sure she remembered who I was, but she responded with such warmth and interest in all I had to say that it really didn’t make that much difference. It wasn’t all that much later that she passed, and I guess even today I still wonder about how deeply the ravages of that unkind disease truly changed her outlook.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Nathan Fisher (played by Bryan Greenberg) is a kinda/sorta failed novelist/playwright who’s going through a bad break-up with his aspiring writer/girlfriend (Emmanuelle Chriqui). Before they can truly work out where they are in their relationship, Fisher is suddenly struck with the news that his father (Harris Yulin) has suffered a stroke. Knowing that his mother (Linda Lavin) is dealing with the onset of Alzheimer’s, the young man realizes he’ll need to relocate back home in order to help the family sort out their own issues. But going back home is never quite what we think it will be …
A SHORT HISTORY OF DECAY is the product of writer/director Michael Maren. It’s clearly a personal film, not so much a vanity project as it is a genuinely warm and heartfelt exploration of some of the toughest issues facing any family today. The characters here are richly drawn and deftly created, and I’ve no doubt they’re probably all inspired by either Maren’s own family and friends or some very close acquaintances. And – to my delight – it’s all delivered with the kind of gusto and panache befitting real live relationships and not the cookie-cutter variety we’re all too often treated to via Hollywood and beyond.
As can happen in films, there are probably a handful of characters that – due to whatever reasons – you may not like as much as others. Greenberg’s kinda/sorta doting son isn’t all that doting, per se; the man is clearly struggling to uncover what he feels his role in life is to be, and while that’s a relatively realistic state of affairs for many mid-thirties men and women DECAY does give the portrait a few too many typical movie conventions (if he’s been unemployed so long, how is it he has any money to spend?). But what works here is the family dynamic; at all times DECAY presents a terrific ensemble built on honesty and acceptance. While it would be easy to pick apart a few of the situations presented here (the last third seems to unfold events with lesser logic than what came before), it always retains a freshness largely due to the presence of reliable character actors Lavin, Yulin, and Perkins.
It’s a nice film. It explores a difficult subject that shouldn’t be shuffled away into the dark. For that, it’s definitely worth your time.
A SHORT HISTORY OF DECAY (2014) is produced by Big Fan Films and Short History. DVD distribution is being handled by Arc Entertainment. As for the technical specifications, this independent feature offers up some mostly high quality sights and sounds, though I’ll admit that some of the audio work wasn’t the best I’ve heard in a few sequences. Lastly – if it’s special features you’re looking for – then be prepared for the disappointment as there aren’t any.
RECOMMENDED. Linda Lavin’s always impressive charm and Harris Yulin’s inspired gruffyness are two of the best reasons to spend some time with A SHORT HISTORY OF DECAY. As a plus, there’s also Kathleen Rose Perkin’s irresistible pluckiness, and Emmanuelle Chriqui is deliciously easy on the eyes (but in too short supply here). As for the script? It’s definitely relevant and timely, but – like some independent films do – DECAY tends to circle the drain quite a bit with scenes that probably mean more to writer/director Maren than they do to the audience: he surprisingly paints with too broad a brush in what should’ve stayed up close and personal to bring out the best in us.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Arc Entertainment provided me with a DVD copy of A SHORT HISTORY OF DECAY by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.
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