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The Safety of Objects

Life sucks. Or at least, it does if you're one of the many people condemned to endure Rose Troche's suburban drama The Safety of Objects (2001). The dense, multi-character plot concerns one fateful week in the lives of four families: Esther Gold's (Glenn Close) world has been torn asunder ever since a car crash that left her son Paul (Joshua Jackson) in a deep coma, while her husband Howard (Robert Klien) has refused to bond with the home's living corpse, and daughter Julie (Jessica Campbell) feels both guilt for her brother's accident and jealousy over the attention he receives. Attorney Jim Train (Dermot Mulroney) is passed over for a crucial promotion and disappears from his office, which doesn't sit well with his wife Susan (Moira Kelly); meanwhile, young son Jake (Alex House) has developed an unhealthy fixation on a Barbie doll. Helen Christianson (Mary Kay Place) is overly anxious about her age, and flits between diet/exercise regimens and potential extramarital affairs. And broke single mom Annette Jennings (Patricia Clarkson) is at loggerheads with her wayward asshole of a husband Bruce (Andrew Airlie). All four families have a tenuous connection with each other — Annette Jennings used to date the younger, now-comatose Paul Gold, but she has yet to reveal the matter to his grief-stricken mother; Helen Christianson's son Bobby (Aaron Ashmore) had an affair with teenage Julie Gold, and was partially responsible for Paul's horrible car crash. Events kick in to gear when Esther Gold realizes she's neglected Julie and thus enters a "hands-on" endurance competition at a local mall to win a brand-new SUV for her daughter. Disillusioned with his career, Jim Train decides to be Esther's chief supporter, confident in a win. At the same time, crash-survivor Randy (Timothy Olyphant) kidnaps pre-teen Sam Jennings (Kristen Stewart), hoping to somehow recapture memories of his dead brother. Riddled with lost ideals, misguided ambition, self-absorption, and emotional isolation, The Safety of Objects might as well confirm that Suburban Alienation is a bona fide film genre, taking its place beside American Beauty, The Ice Storm, Happiness, and others with its bleak interpretation of the American Dream gone quietly awry. It is a world where a man like Jim Train must learn that hard work does not always equal fit reward, although he finds himself still clinging to his up-by-the-bootstraps ethos. It's also a world where a caring mother like Esther Gold realizes (in an existentialist epiphany of Camusesque proportions) that causes and effects probably have very little to do with each other, and that God plays cruel jokes. Believing that her ex-husband has kidnapped one of her children, Annette Jennings bemoans that fact that she once loved the man so much that she married him and bore his children — "Where does love go?" she asks, almost rhetorically. And, as the title suggests, each character seems to have at least one thing, one object, that they are clinging to in the hopes that it will somehow erase unspeakable pain — be it a catcher's mitt, an SUV, a guitar, a doll, a piece of furniture, or even people who are too helpless to resist affection. The Safety of Objects hammers the point of its title home with a too-tidy denouement, and some characters come across as enormously selfish and pathetic — perhaps suburban America is this disfunctional, or perhaps director Troche and author A.M Homes have little regard for its deeply entrenched inhabitants. The strongest, most complex characters are given life by Glenn Close and Patricia Clarkson, both of whom do credit to the vastly interwoven stories. And good supporting work comes from Timothy Olyphant as a young pedophile, as well as Andrew Airlie as an ex-husband who's stricken by mid-life paranoia. It's not always a pleasant experience, but with its briskly paced, many-layered plot, The Safety of Objects is like the car wreck that forms the core of the story — it's so disastrous that it's difficult to turn away. MGM's DVD release features a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby 2.0 Surround audio. Trailer gallery, keep-case.

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