Canvas

2007, Movie, PG-13, 100 mins

Review

CANVAS
starstarstarstar
Writer-director Joseph Greco's fact-based drama about a Florida boy growing up in the shadow of his mother's mental illness often rings painfully true, but would have benefited from judicious editing.

Vaguely set in the 1980s, presumably when Greco was growing up, the film quickly establishes the dynamic of a family driven by its least stable member. Creative, passionate and devoted to her son, Mary Marino (Marcia Gay Harden) is also schizophrenic, and her illness has emotionally and financially exhausted her devoted husband, independent construction contractor John (Joe Pantoliano). Ten-year-old Chris (Devon Gearhart), who spends long periods in the care of his aunt in Alaska when his father has his hands full with Mary's illness, keeps his school friends at arm's length and dreads his mother's public outbursts; it's almost a relief when, soon after he returns home, she has another relapse and is institutionalized. John, grief-stricken and overwhelmed, especially after he loses his steadiest gig — in part because Chris beats up his boss' son after the boy makes a cruel remark about Chris' loony mom — retreats into building a sailboat in his yard, an enterprise that makes him look only slightly less crazy than Mary. Left to fend for himself, Chris gradually discovers that for all Mary's instability, she's given him the gift of unconditional love and supported a creativity that becomes his ticket to friendship with classmate Dawn (Sophia Bairley), who knows a little something about eccentric parents and helps Chris find his place in the schoolkids' hierarchy.

Greco succeeds where many others have failed in giving a real sense of what it is to grow up with a parent who's hobbled by mental illness, and the toll one person's intractable sickness takes on every member of the family. The connection he draws between mental illness and art is problematic and more than a little heavy-handed, and the film desperately needs cutting — scenes go on too long and reiterate points that have long since been made clear. Gearhart is a competent child actor but doesn't have what it takes to make Chris' travails really interesting, but Harden and Pantoliano compensate with their subtle, wrenching performances as his parents. And to Greco's credit, the film makes it clear that there are no easy answers or miraculous recoveries for people with mental disorders or for those who love them. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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