Imaginary Heroes (2004)

DVD Cover (Sony Home Entertainment)
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Overall Rating 71%
Overall Rating
Ranked #3,996
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The Travis family facade is destroyed by an event incomprehensible to them -- an event which will open locked doors and finally reveal the secrets that have haunted them for decades. --IMDb
Review by bluemeanie
Added: April 27, 2005
There is something strangely surreal about the characters and events in "Imaginary Heroes", the new drama written and directed by newcomer Dan Harris. The dialogue is so fresh and so whimsical, and the progression of events is a little uneven, but affecting in the way they establish a basic sense that 'something is not right here'. By the end of the film, we know what that 'something' is, and it is resolved; but, that still leaves us with the feeling that things may never be how they once were. Then again, would these characters even want things the way they once were? I found myself invested in all of these characters, caring for them deeply, and concerned with what was happening to them. Dan Harris has taken elements from "Ordinary People" and "The Ice Storm" and turned them into something equally convincing by adding humor, deeper relationships, and a little of the bizarre. What makes "Imaginary Heroes" work is how emotionally capable the film is -- it knows exactly what it is doing at all times.

The focus of this film is the Travis family. We learn very early on in the film that the oldest son in the family, Mark (Kip Pardue) has committed suicide, forcing the family to adjust to this tragedy. Sandy Travis (Sigourney Weaver) is the matriarch of the family and is the posterchild for every teenager's dream mom. She smokes marijuana, uses their lingo, and could probably fit in at any party she was taken to. She has an especially close relationship with her son Tim (Emile Hirsch), who thinks he doesn't fit in with the family and has a volatile relationship with his father, Ben (Jeff Daniels). Ben is hit hardest by the death of his eldest son. He insists that Mark's place at the table be honored, he wears his son's clothing, and spends his days sitting on a park bench, reflecting on his life. Penny (Michelle Williams) is the only daughter and comes home occasionally from college. The film, essentially, follows one year in the life of the Travis family, from when Mark commits suicide, to Tim's high school graduation. Along this timeline, each member of the family changes in their own way and turns into someone they were not at the film's beginning. By the film's end, the audience can be satisfied that things are for the better and that true change has occurred.

Many of the reviews for this film that I have read point to the picture as 'the Sigourney Weaver Show'. That is, in many ways, a correct statement. This role was obviously written for Weaver and the screenplay was obviously written around her character. Weaver has always had this ability to transform herself on screen, and she is so likable because of her incredible beauty and her knack for delivering her dialogue with such zest and snap. This film is the highlight of her abilities. Take, for example, a scene when she visits a trailer park to sling threats at a family for the way their son has been treating her son. Her character has no sympathy for these people and means every word that comes out of her mouth. She would make their lives a living hell and would not think twice about it. Jeff Daniels also brings a strong resonance to his role as the grief crippled father. It is obvious he loves his family, but just doesn't have the tools to convey those emotions...he has to develop them. He is riddled with the notion that he caused his son's death and is constantly worried that another member of his family might also commit suicide. The real standouts of the film, however, were Emile Hirsch as Tim, and Ryan Donowho as Kyle, his best friend. Hirsch is one of the finest young actors around, and this is his best role to date. Donowho was amazing in "A Home At the End of the World", and this film gives him a little more room to shine. These two have a nice relationship on screen, which is revealed further by the end of the picture.

As director, Dan Harris has not gone for anythign elaborate. Other than the occasional star moving in pattern, this film is as simple as films come. It is a family drama, just like "Ordinary People". In fact, think of this as "Ordinary People" with brass balls. "Imaginary Heroes" pulls no punches and really goes straight for the emotional strings. Every member of the character gets at least one breakdown scene, and this is fine because we can see how emotionally fragile they all are. The suicide has affected all of them in some way, and as much as they try to hide it, they cannot escape that pain. My favorite scene in the film -- my favorite moment -- is when the family has just arrived home after a party where Tim was lambasted by his father. They are walking up to the house, and there is this moment of extreme tension when Ben turns around and faces his son -- we cannot tell if he is going to strike him, or wants to say something. To me, it looked as if he was just about to say something terrible, but them took a look at his son, and considered that his words might have already caused more damage than he was willing to accept. Just amazing. In the editing room, I would have gotten rid of the final scene at the nursing home, but that is only a small complaint.

Considering "Ordinary People" is my favorite film of all-time, you can imagine how excited I have been about this film. Believe me when I say that I was not disappointed. Though "Imaginary Heroes" does not possess the same build up of tension and drama as "Ordinary People", it does give us some of the most engaging characters I have seen in a while, alongwith one of the most perfect examples of family disfunction. The relationship between Sigourney Weaver and Emile Hirsch is one we have yet to see in a mainstream film, and I thought Harris handled it wonderfully. It did not seem sappy...it did not seem out of place. These are two characters that understand one another. "Imaginary Heroes" appeals to that part of us that wants the best for people with problems...we want to see them succeed and live happy lives. The hard part is giving us characters that can make us produce those feelings. Dan Harris has succeeded, and given us one of the most emotional and entertaining rides of the year. 9/10.
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