Snow Angels is one of those films that you run into frequently at Sundance: a movie that has great moments in it, but doesn't hold together as a whole experience. This was unfortunate because this was one of the films I was most looking forward to seeing at Sundance. Based on the novel by Stewart O'Nan, writer and director David Gordon Green does a great job of capturing snapshots of life in a small town, but overall it misses the mark emotionally.
This film has a disturbing event that serves as a pivotal moment and involves a small child, but it hasn't been talked about much due to the controversy surrounding Hounddog, which might unfortunately work to its disadvantage. Any publicity is good publicity, and hopefully the current media windstorm around the Dakota Fanning film won't hurt this one, but chances are that if you mention "the film at Sundance with the young girl in it," people will think about the other one, and not this.
The film revolves around several characters whose lives intertwine and overlap in a small town during the dead of winter. The main characters are Glenn (Sam Rockwell), his ex-wife Annie (Kate Beckinsale) and the struggles they encounter while Annie tries to raise their daughter, and Glenn attempts to put a suicide attempt behind him. Glenn also is a recent born-again Christian, although he's not able to hold down a steady job, and frequently turns to alcohol to help him ignore his problems.
Rounding out the cast are Barb (a woefully miscast Amy Sedaris) as Annie's fellow waitress at a Chinese restaurant in town, Arthur (Michael Angarano) as a typically angst-ridden teenager, his parents who have separated (Griffin Dunne and Jeanetta Arnette), new girl and lovable oddball at school Lila (Olivia Thirlby), and Annie's lover and Barb's husband Nate.
Although the main crux of the film focuses on Glenn and Annie, the subplots become more interesting as things unravel. You find yourself rooting for Arthur and Lila to get together, even though their relationship is quite simple, and doesn't have any real obstacles. I don't think it bodes well for a film when you start paying more attention to what is happening with the peripheral characters than you do to the main plot. Like I said before, he captures moments of life, sadness, melancholy, and desperation extremely well, but he couldn't keep me interested in Glenn and Annie.
The performances by the actors are all well done. Kate Beckinsale does a great job as a struggling single parent who can't seem to make a good decision about the men in her life. Sam Rockwell's born-again alcoholic Glenn is eerie and annoying, but you still feel for him. Olivia Thirlby was the real standout as Lila, looking a bit like Anne Hathaway with horn-rimmed glasses, she steals every scene she's in and is impossibly cute. If they ever wanted to remake Amelie (which granted, would be a crime) they should cast her.
In the end I found myself remembering powerful scenes from this film, but not really having them resonate with me because they didn't relate to each other that well, and I was taken out of the heart of the story several times. If you like portraits of dysfunctionality in small towns, and good character pieces, then you'll enjoy this movie (at times).