Reading the majority of comments about "Before and After," I wanted to guess
the commentators'ages (mostly in their twenties - thirties?)
to assume that they were either childless or had never raised
As announced by the young voice when the movie opens, this is a story of
daily life that was changed in an instant, and that afterwards, the family
was never the same again. It sounds like a tautology, but most of our lives
are not interesting enough as material for the movies, and it is a rare
script and director that can show "daily life" and have anyone praise its
results. Ordinary dialogue, too, is a challenge, because people as a rule
don't speak in great cadences. Moreover, if one is looking at the movies
today, anything that is not "family drama" contains a volley of expletives
that passes for dialogue. So it is understandable that this movie did not
rate high in the minds of the x-generation.
As a parent of teens, however, I found the film quite true to life.
basically about how parents respond to a dire family crisis and how they
must adjust to each other as a unit. We see how the son, as played by young
Ed Furlong, is affected by the shock of this event. As an actor, his fine
portrayal as the sensitive young writer in "Grass Harp" is a parallel role
and should be mentioned. As for the parents, Streep was drawing on her
experience as a mother of three and was not "acting" in the way one saw her
in her obviously great roles, such as "Sophie's Choice" or "Out of Africa."
This was a subtler challenge for her. With Neeson, also a father in real
life, he chose to portray the father as impulsive, strong and the embodiment
of unconditional parental love. I felt that the parents were meant to be
somewhat opposites and complementary-- she contemplative, more intellectual
and sympathetic, he aggressive, protective and reactive.
Some viewers were disturbed by the unbalanced and unsympathetic portrayal of
the dead girl's mother and the dead girl herself. How could it be otherwise
and not be told from Jacob or Jude's point of view? This is not "Rashomon"
-- we were not meant to have different points of view defended. However, the
very casting of the mother and of the girl friend as being less well
educated and of a different "class," was obvious, and another "true thing"
that often happens in families. Here, however,it is not the parents'
disapproval that is important, but how they respond to their son's
Some viewers might say that my comments betray my being manipulated. Well,
all viewers are being manipulated in any movie, and a measure of whether we
like the movie or not, is whether we resent or do not mind being manipulated
as the writer and director wished us to be. If someone watched this movie
hoping for the suspense of a crime drama, they won't like it. If someone
watched this hoping for dramatic acting as in the Oscar-winning roles of
Streep or Neeson (I would have cited "Lamb" as his earliest and strongest),
then they also would be disappointed. And if someone were watching this
expecting something other than a presentation of daily life, then they would
also be disappointed, because they would have found it flat, bland, even
trite- until something dramatic, like the accident on Jacob's fateful date--
happens to jolt its members out of their routine and their complacency.
That is what this movie is about.
I found myself agreeing with the entire gamut of the parents' reactions
(which some viewers found "stupid"), but that is how parents (and even
children) often behave in a crisis. I also found myself understanding both
Jacob's and his sister's emotions. Jude didn't have many lines, but those
she spoke were true and thought-provoking coming from a youngster of that
age and maturity. One other crucial point is how the actors responded to
each other as members of a family, and I found that they were not only well
cast, but were all up to the challenge, delivering themselves quite
honorably. This incident could have happened to any ordinary family, and
there but for the grace of God, go I.
Of four ****, I rate three and a half.