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    Winter Solstice

    The emotion is tabled

    "Winter Solstice" is a shallowly written movie about deep emotions, which misses every chance to get inside its characters' heads.


    "Winter Solstice" is a small family drama that's sincere and believable, well cast and well acted — and just not all there.

    Written and directed by: Josh Sternfeld.
    Cast: Anthony LaPaglia, Aaron Stanford, Mark Webber, Allison Janney, Ron Livingston, Michelle Monaghan, Brendan Sexton III, Ebon Moss-Bachrach.
    Cinematography: Harlan Bosmajian.
    Edited by: Plummy Tucker.
    Philadelphia Film Festival 2005
    • Overview

    • Official festival site

    • Clean
    • Crying Out Love in the Center of the World
    • Evilenko
    • Frozen

    • Machuca
    • Or (My Treasure)
    • Winter Solstice
    • Woman Is the Future of Man
    Anthony LaPaglia plays Jim Winters, a single father in suburban New Jersey with two teenage sons who are at that age where they've just started to hate him for no concrete reason. His older boy, Gabe, is taking on extra shifts in his grocery stockroom job while he secretly saves up to move out of his hated home state. High-school senior Pete — whether he's brooding over the loss of his mom, grumpy about having to wear a hearing aid to school, or just surly and indifferent by nature — is trying to sulk his way out of ever graduating. Both kids would rather be hanging out at the "local community center," aka the Dairy Queen parking lot, than spending time with their dad.

    Some of the film's most understated scenes are its best. Jim's landscaping business takes him to the opulent homes of his clients in neighboring towns, and little needs to be said to convey the patient creativity of his work, the humbleness of his social standing and the hard, sometimes unappreciated devotion that's gone into providing a decent home for his own family. And there's a lot of subtle humor in the scenes of Pete enduring summer school, where he finally runs into a teacher (Ron Livingston of "Office Space" and "Sex in the City") who finds unexpected ways to make him belatedly want to learn something.

    Winter Solstice  
    In a stronger movie, these would be the kind of secondary scenes that give the movie breathing space and gently deepen the characters, that put valleys between the emotional peaks and create a sense of rhythm. But this movie is almost all breathing space. Sure, there are a few conflicts and outbursts, but the overall effect is still soft. The reason has to be that the characters have no essence. There are chances for them to make some definitive statement about who they are and why they're acting the way they do, but every one of those chances slips away.

    Take Gabe — why, exactly, is he so desperate to leave New Jersey? "Every day this place just looks a little worse to me," he says. "I just can't get anything started here, you know?" What kind of explanation is that? What is he trying to start? We never know.

    Meanwhile, his dad misses all his chances to explain what he's all about as well. He becomes friendly with new neighbor Molly (Allison Janney of "The West Wing"), and they have two conversations that should really bore in on who they are in their souls, not only for each other's benefit but for the audience's. That doesn't happen. Nobody talks in an interesting way. Rarely does any character say two intelligent, or clever, or revealing, or adventurous sentences in the whole movie.

    It's easy to say why that doesn't happen: It's in the writing. Writer-director Josh Sternfeld started with these well-conceived characters and simply didn't succeed in making them flesh. These people have traits instead of personalities; goals instead of dreams. Sternfeld created a situation with substance but not a movie to match.

    APRIL 26, 2005

    Reader comments on Winter Solstice:

  • Another View   from Ed Cassidy, Oct 3, 2005
  • Winter Solstice   from Jo White, Mar 20, 2006

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