A 2008 Sundance Film Festival selection, "The Guitar" is a film that takes us into the unpredictable world of a woman with a terminal illness. Directed by Amy Redford and with a script by Amos Pie, it is a story that dives into the mind of a lonely, grieving cancer patient and her final days--it is a story of frustrations, freedom, disconnection, and awakening.
Melody Wilder (Saffron Burrows) is a woman who had just discovered that she only has two months to live--she has been diagnosed with throat cancer. To make things worse, she had just been laid off from her job and before she can confide with her boyfriend about her affliction, he breaks up with her. So what does Melody do? She cleans out her existing bank accounts, and rents a short term loft. Without any fears and inhibitions, Melody makes a carefree life for her last days--maxing out her credit cards, walks around stark naked in her loft, abandons her healthy diet, indulges in exploratory sexual experiences, until finally she learns to play a guitar.
Delving into the mind of a cancer victim is a very interesting premise, think "Last Holiday" and "the Bucket List" but on a much smaller timeline. However, the film does have quite a number of weaknesses. The script feels to display a some of overload of the bleak things that can happen to one person. I mean, it is possible for all these things to happen, but I think it leaned too much on the cruelty of the world, and it feels a little heavy-handed. The direction by Amy Redford does get its message across; it is a forceful approach enough, but it just feels too much of an exhibition that just grabs the viewer, that some may have a slight suspension of disbelief and a leap beyond logic.
The way Melody expresses her grief may be a little predictable--buying totally unnecessary things, indulging in foods high in cholesterol and calories, and secluding herself in an enclosed space is believable but the way the following events occur is just too convenient. She develops friendships with a courier delivery man named Roscoe (Isaac De Bankole) and a pizza delivery girl named "Cookie" (Paz Dela Huerte), and of course she has sex with both of them. Mel's situation should be more complicated, and the screenplay fails to add complexities to her last few days. It just feels too predictable and what happens in the loft isn't anything new. The film is very simple, and has the "living the moment" theme going for it, but it felt too simple for its own good--nothing much happens.
For a film like this to succeed, the lead actress has to be very capable. Well, despite the weaknesses of the script, Saffron Burrows manages to draw the best out of what she had while being restrained by the script, but she can‘t really fully succeed. I really liked her in "Deep Blue Sea" and even in smaller roles such as in "Troy", I thought Burrows is an underrated actress. Most parts of the film had little or no dialogue at all, (I thought this was a good approach to the film) and Burrows does manage to express the needed emotions that ranges from fear, desperation and pain, covered up by over-indulgence. The chemistry between Melody, Roscoe and Cookie does serve up the necessary ingredients that kept my interest, its energetic material does put some of its overly done plot elements at ease. "The Guitar" does somewhat succeed as a semi-character study of an ill woman, her frail sickly frame and plaintive gestures of sadness does generate sympathy.
"The Guitar" does have missed opportunities in its narrative, it failed to deliver a truly complex character drama and opted to elements which are too predictable for my tastes; it lacked a strong grip on tangibility and realistic inventiveness. Its themes about self-discovery, maturing through disconnection and finding artistic redemption was missing some needed dramatic impact on its narrative. The lively bond between Melody and her new friends brought some sexy scenes of experimentations, and exacerbating chemistry in the screenplay. I thought the acting by Burrows proved to be its main strength as a cancer victim searching for contentment. While the film could have soared a lot, lot higher, I'm happy to say, at least it managed to stay aloft.
Recommended with caution, Rent it first [3 ½ - Stars]
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