Like Dandelion Dust simmers, no steep or steeple.
Rip and Wendy Porter are in a quandary; after seven years of incarceration, Rip learns that Wendy was pregnant with their son before his alcohol and rage fueled misbehaving sent him to prison. Worse yet, conflicted on what to do she put the child up for adoption. Fueled by jailhouse religion, self-redemption or notions of fatherhood grandeur, Rip pushes to get the child back in order to rebuild their fractured marriage. The trouble is, their son is in the care of a wealthy couple in Florida, the only family he has ever really known and they don’t want to let him go. Further demons detour best intentions when Rip buckles under the strain of hard labor, doing the right thing, and staying sober.
Emotional and psychological conflict keeps the lights on in this modest melodrama based on the novel of the same name by New York Times best-selling author Karen Kingsbury, though the dueling couples of one-off type characters rarely exceed expectations. The premise operates on effective dramatic opportunities but it plods and at times comes to an abrupt stop; frequently the characters resort to telegraphing every next step in insipid, at times insulting to the senses and uninteresting ways. It’s not that this is a bad film, rather lukewarm in that Hallmark channel, Inspiration Network sort of way that puts morality lessons and commonality ahead of unique characters with genuine fallibility as fuel for entertaining verisimilitude.
Like Dandelion Dust gets mixed reviews – some average out to O.K. Rottentomatoes, and just functional others – yet I have to go with miss it. I don’t have a ticket stub for “you decide” then again you can find wishy-washy elsewhere. You’re here for the straight talk. The kids have gone to bed, metaphorically speaking. See it if you want sentimentally average. Miss it if you want lumps in your oatmeal, pot holes in the freeway, poorly dressed coworkers that make your duds spiffy, or flaws for the sake of flaws because an imperfect world doesn’t have a limiter and over modulated is par for the course. This film feels mechanical for the sake of intricate, burdened because it wants to even out in the end. Yet the jagged emotional outbursts and inner turmoil seems corralled, stunted even, kept by some unknown reasoning that can only be attributed to lackadaisical direction or no direction at all. Some directors populate their films, or in some cases have their films populated for them by producers or the bankroll department, with strong actors that are allowed to do what they think is right. This isn’t always a bad thing, just average and punchless – even De Niro needs a good director to spar with, to kick around and scratch out the real details. When a director rests on the talent of the actor the story suffers and the performance arrives half-baked, undone and misunderstood. This story can’t get going, stuck half way between first and second gear and it shows as little more than a sluggish examination of bureaucratic and familial wrong doings, pitting class against class in psychological warfare and deep-rooted human selfishness. Right and wrong feels colored in that 1950’s televised western kind of way where the bad guys are flat-black as their black hats and the good guys are too good to take seriously. This translates into a sort of cinematic transcendental idealism insofar as alcoholism, strained parenthood and second chances are relegated to what we think they are in and of themselves but not necessarily how they personally affect us. For those without first hand experience it’s the mannequin in the window dressing, a safe distance without ever getting off the sidewalk. After two minutes it’s stepping on to the next Spiderman, Superman, end-of-the-world-scenario flick or less, something on t.v.
Jon Gunn directs and edits (though uncredited), generally a deadly combination as the roles blur the line between the necessary and the interesting. His choices are evident enough yet confounded by a prevailing everydayness – the mistake of rooting your story in average is preventing the dramatic from escaping the ordinary. Gunn navigates truthful but it’s not unique enough and the roads look all the same; careful is enough for television and b-grade films but natural is not synonymous with exceptional or truthful performance under imaginary circumstances. Meisner had it right in emphasizing the importance of the moments and the role spontaneity plays in governing the action – it is too bad Gunn isn’t a student or maybe it’s just his inexperience that mistakes the difference between truthful and pedestrian.