Imaginary Heroes

  Imaginary Heroes
"Life is so much simpler when you're sitting in a giant cereal bowl."

© 2005, Sony Pictures Classics
All Rights Reserved

Matt Travis (Kip Pardue) is a star athlete and the apple of his father's (Jeff Daniels) eye. When pressure and frustration with his routine become too much, Matt kills himself, knocking down the fragile structure of the Travis household, which includes his mother Sandy (Sigourney Weaver) and teenage brother Tim (Emile Hirsch). As depression and venom seep into the family dynamic, Tim struggles with the outlook of his life while he watches his parents' already tempestuous marriage burn to the ground.

It was the screenplay for "Imaginary Heroes" (IMDb listing) that brought writer Dan Harris to the attention of director Bryan Singer, who then hired Harris (and co-writer Michael Dougherty) to write the comic book sequel "X2." Watching "Heroes," I can see why Singer took a chance on such a young (24-year-old) writer. The screenplay seems wise beyond his years, with rich attention paid to character, and a mournful theme about the realities behind the people we hold as heroes in our lives. It's not as far from the mutant world as it looks.

Originality isn't a strong point of "Heroes." The film covers the same white, upper class suburban angst examined in "The Ice Storm" and "Ordinary People." But while the pathway was laid out clearly for Harris to easily repeat themes and events from earlier films, "Heroes" manages to find its own quirky style, sometimes artificial, but mostly organic and interesting. Harris, also making his directing debut, has some difficulty working from his own enormous screenplay. He has trouble choosing which critical scenes to include or which themes of disenchantment to convey, making "Heroes" a disorganized picture, rollercoasting up and down in pace and timing. However, I was impressed with Harris' filmmaking choices, which rightfully emphasize actors over indulgent visual styles.

Harris' acting troupe is given a healthy palette to work with in "Heroes." Covering all types of repressed emotions -- drug imbibing, sexual dysfunction, slapstick comedy, and tear jerking -- the cast has all its bases covered. Especially impressive is Sigourney Weaver, who doesn't normally get a chance at a juicy, suburban role like this. As the mother slowly losing her grip on her family, Weaver plays the comedy and tragedy perfectly as her character experiments with marijuana and flirting -- a direct result of the realization that her marriage might be over for good. She's excellent here. Also great is Emile Hirsch, who, to be honest, has played the coming-of-age role many times before ("The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys," "The Girl Next Door"). Tim is a haunted character, played by Hirsch as a recluse, lost in his own lethargic desire to accept his life. Hirsch has the iffiest role of all the actors, and he pulls it together through Harris' script and some atypically subtle acting.

"Imaginary Heroes" eventually stumbles upon some heavy-handed plotting, expressly designed to elicit sympathy for these broken people. The entire production has the feel of a first-time film, but only the last act is weighed down by that mood. Still, this is a nice debut for Harris, and for fans of dysfunctional family stories, a great addition to an underappreciated genre.

Filmfodder Grade: B+