Aurora Borealis

2004, Movie, R, 110 mins


Dawson's Creek alum Joshua Jackson makes a belated but smooth transition to more adult roles in this beautifully rendered character study from director James C.E. Burke. Twin Cities native Duncan Shorter (Jackson) could have been a contender: By all accounts a great high-school hockey player who could have written his own all-expenses-paid ticket to the University of Minnesota, Duncan inexplicably gave up on the whole college thing and opted instead for a string of dead-end jobs. His latest career at a builder's-supply store having just come to an end, Duncan hits up his more successful friends (Zack Ward, Tyler Labine) for work, but no one's interested in hiring a guy with no college degree and a bad employment record. Duncan's banker brother, Jake (Steven Pasquale), is about to write him off completely, even though his own personal life is a mess; Jake compulsively cheats on his wife and uses Duncan's Minneapolis apartment as a trysting spot. Duncan toys with the idea of once again applying to college, but like everything else he considers doing, it all soon turns into a laugh and a giggle and another snowy night out with the guys, watching a Vikings game on a barroom TV. Duncan's outlook widens a bit when he finally visits his grandparents, Ruth (Louise Fletcher) and Ronald (Donald Sutherland), at their new apartment in a seniors' complex. Duncan has been reluctant to see his grandfather, whose physical and mental health has begun to rapidly degenerate due to what appears to be the onset of Alzheimer's; Ronald's begun to confuse Duncan with Duncan's father, who died from years of cocaine abuse when Duncan was only 10, and repeatedly insists that he's able to see the northern lights from his balcony. What keeps Duncan returning to see his addled grandfather and to even get a job as the building's assistant superintendent is Kate (Juliette Lewis), Ronald's visiting health-care worker who's made a habit of moving from one city to another and has only just settled in St. Paul. Much to the amazement of Duncan's friends, who can't imagine what someone like Kate could possibly see in a loser like Duncan, they begin dating. As Ronald's condition worsens and his depression deepens — he even begins badgering Duncan for a single shell for his shotgun — Duncan's commitment to his family, his father's memory and an adult life of his own is put to the test. The character of Duncan isn't all that far from the role of Dawson Leery's clowning but self-doubting best friend on the show that made Jackson a teen-mag heartthrob, and Burke's film makes for an ideal career segue. The real surprise here is Lewis, who seems to have finally hit on a role that balances her usual flakiness with smarts and an offbeat poignancy, and she delivers the strongest work of her adult career. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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