THE SAFETY OF OBJECTS, adapted by writer-director Rose Troche from a book of short stories by A.M. Homes, is a bold, ambitious and engaging work that suffers from too much story and not enough cohesiveness.
Two genres are combined in THE SAFETY OF OBJECTS, the proto-Altman ensemble piece and the suburban piece, but the result is neither the poignancy of MAGNOLIA nor the comedy of ABOUT SCHMIDT. This project is a welcome departure, however, from Troche’s past gay-themed films, GO FISH and BEDROOMS AND HALLWAYS.
THE SAFETY OF OBJECTS depicts the intertwined stories of four families, all of which are going through their own existential crises. The film says that life is difficult and confusing and in the end we need each other, but says nothing about true meaning found in a relationship with God.
Glenn Close heads this always engaging and impressive cast as the matriarch of the Gold family, Esther Gold. The Golds live a quietly despairing existence with their son, Paul, who lies in a coma in the upstairs bedroom. Dermot Mulroney stars as Jim Train, a high-powered attorney, whose life of 12-hour workdays is shattered when he’s passed over for a promotion. Annette Jennings (Patricia Clarkson) is a nearby single mother who is simultaneously trying to raise two girls while dealing with an absent ex-husband who’s in arrears on child support. She is also in mourning over the loss of her boyfriend. Annette’s best friend, Helen Christianson (Mary Kay Place), feels lost and unloved in her day-to-day existence as a wife and mother of two, so she dreams of having an affair.
Esther Gold decides to earn the love of her neglected daughter by winning a jeep in a hard body contest. Jim Train is astonished at how dysfunctional his family is when he spends his first day at home in 12 years. In fact, his young son is so alienated that he has an on-going perverted relationship with his sister’s Barbie doll. Annette is belittled by both her ex-husband and her handyman (played by Timothy Olyphant) as she tries to raise her children and deal with a past loss. The same handyman rebuffs Helen as she tries to escape her unhappy existence.
Jim finds “meaning and purpose” by avoiding the problems at home and work. Instead, he becomes part of the support team for Esther in her hard-body competition. Annette has a blow-up with her ex-husband over Sam, one of their daughters. She assumes that he has kidnapped her. Erstwhile Helen decides to go home with some random guy she met in a bar.
In the third act, all these characters have been affected by a car accident that occurred one year before. The accident left Paul Gold in a coma, his family in a state of not-quite-mourning, and Annette without the only man who ever really loved her. This accident has also killed the handyman’s younger brother.
Troche does a good job of slowly revealing what actually happened and the sadness that each of these characters are experiencing, but the threads lack thematic cohesiveness. THE SAFETY OF OBJECTS goes off in too many directions and doesn’t support the main theme of suburbanites losing touch with what’s important by worshiping their possessions. In fact, Jim doesn’t worship possessions. His idol was his work. Esther’s distraction was the unresolved grief for her comatose son. Annette just seems to have received a few harsh blows in life all at the same time. Helen just seems confused.
All of these characters suffer from lack of meaning because there is no meaning apart from God. It is all vanity, even when we cherish each other appropriately. We were made for God, not just each other. The movie misses this point. In fact, in one beautifully acted monologue, Close gives Mulroney this piece of advice, “When you pray, be very specific because God has a wicked sense of humor. Even though He knows what you mean, He gives you just what you ask for and nothing more.”
So, while the acting is superb (and features the always wonderful Moira Kelly) and the tapestry is rich and engaging, THE SAFETY OF OBJECTS addresses a small truth about the importance of relationships but not the bigger truth of life found in God. What the movie does try to say, it says clumsily because the stories don’t strongly support the theme.
This film may offend some because there is a weird relationship between a young boy and a doll, the young boy tries to play doctor with one of his female friends, and one scene features the teenage daughter of Close masturbating.
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SUMMARY: THE SAFETY OF OBJECTS depicts the intertwined stories of four families, all of which are going through their own existential crises while sharing a common core. Jaded spirituality and scenes of twisted sexuality make this movie inappropriate for moral moviegoers.
(HH, Ab, FR, LL, SS, A, D, M) Humanist worldview; character says, "When you pray, be very specific because God has a wicked sense of humor. Even though He knows what you mean, He gives you just what you ask for and nothing more"; nine obscenities; no violence; one scene of teenagers making out, two scenes of boy playing inappropriately with a doll (in a sexual manner) and one scene of a teenage girl masturbating; alcohol use; no nudity; and, smoking.