Saturday, March 31, 2007

Expecting the Unexpected

Who would have thought that a movie about a man who loses his family on 9/11 could ever bring more laughter than tears? I definitely didn't, but Reign Over Me definitely has some laugh-out-loud moments. Thankfully, though, the comedic moments never once make light of the tragedy.

Adam Sandler plays Charlie Fineman, a 9/11 widower whose family was aboard one of the planes. In another life, far separated from the one he leads now, he was a successful dentist, a happy man, and a good friend. Now he's simply a mess. The always wonderful Don Cheadle plays Alan Johnson, Charlie's former college roommate. While Charlie has lost everything, Alan seems to have everything--the successful dental practice, a beautiful family, and wonderful home. When Alan happens upon Charlie one night on the street, a wonderful relationship begins to blossom. Both Charlie and Alan need each other more than they know. Charlie needs a person to escape with him, someone who didn't know him when he was a family man. Alan needs someone with whom he can be wild and irresponsible just to escape the overwhelming responsibilities of his life.

I could talk about how much I love Don Cheadle for days, but I'm going to keep it short and sweet. Don Cheadle is such a great character actor as well as a leading man. He plays comedy well; he plays drama like a champ, and that kind of versatility really shines in this film. Cheadle successfully shows both a man desperate for change who relishes in the freedom of irresponsibility as well as a man who can't let go of all that responsibility.

One critic said Adam Sandler's performance was like his Billy Madison character on a sedative. I beg to differ. I've always been impressed with Sandler's serious turns, and Reign Over Me is no different. Charlie is a man so deeply depressed that he's past knowing anything is wrong. He'd rather forget his family ever existed than deal with the fact they no longer exist. With every silly thing he does and every violent outburst, Charlie's pain always shows. Sandler may be great with pratfalls and funny voices, but he does destructive and depressed equally well.

I know that this story is ultimately about Charlie and his coming to terms with reality, but I really wish Mike Binder had explored Alan's story a little more. At the beginning of the film, Alan's burden of responsibilities is well-established, but then the story takes a third-row seat to Charlie's larger issues. Jada Pinkett-Smith, as Alan's wife, only gets about 15 minutes of screen time, and the majority of it is spent in the kitchen. I got closure in the Charlie-Alan storyline, but I didn't get the closure I was hoping in the Alan-family story. That aside, I really enjoyed Reign Over Me.

Some people may be turned off by the laugh-out-loud comedy sprinkled with tissue-grabbing drama, but I thought it really worked. People deal with tragic circumstances in many different ways, and it's comforting to find that writer-director Mike Binder wasn't afraid of to make his characters laugh, cry, get angry, and just try to live.

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