The Guitar

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Sundance Film Festival

PARK CITY -- What they used to call a "Woman's Weepy" brims with new life in "The Guitar," but also sadly loses itself with a smiley-face desperation. A jarring and poignant tale of a young woman who is diagnosed with throat cancer and given two months to live, this Premieres section entrant loses its narrative rigor; as such, its prognosis for a select-site film life appears unlikely.

Under director Amy Redford's generously spirited hand, "The Guitar" will pluck mainstream female hearts and could readily be revived by a Lifetime-like lifeline.

No mere tear-jerker, "The Guitar" is a sobering and resonant tale of a young woman, Mel (Safforon Burrows) who in one Job-ean day is diagnosed with terminal cancer, down-sized by her company and dumped by her boyfriend. Wonderfully, in this age of the victim, Mel does not wallow: She takes charge, determined to live out the rest of her short life with abandon. Most sensibly, she acts wild and crazy -- leasing a Hudson River-view loft, maxing out her cards and indulging in adventurous sex.

Understandably, Mel bounces from euphoria to despair, existing in extremes. And it's in those gyrations that actress Saffron Burrows wins our heart. In her smartly modulated performance, Burrows grips the essence of this woman's plight and distills it with subtle variations. In cadence with the character's emotions, director Amy Redford sagely musters visual and musical correlatives to reflect Mel's mind-state and situation.

Under Redford's generously spirited hands, the technical contributions invigorate the storyline, including director of photography Bobby Bukowski's telling framings and editor David Leonard's textured cuts. Composer David Mansfield's assonant yet stirring score pulses with meaning, while music supervisor Tracy McKnight's sage selections bring resonance.

Amos Poe's screenplay shows psychological smarts but, most egregiously, consumes itself with an overdosage of narrative painkillers. A feel-good bromide, in effect, flatlines this otherwise exemplary film.

The supporting players, aptly, provide life support, particularly Isaach de Bankole and Paz de la Huerta in their respective turns as Mel's new-found family. As Mel's physician, Janeane Garofalo's dour delivery and lack of empathy bespeaks the callousness of the "caring" professions.

THE GUITAR
Cinetic Media
Credits:
Director: Amy Redford
Screenwriter: Amos Poe
Producers: Bob Jason, Heyward Collins, Amy Redford, Amos Poe, Brad Zions
Executive producers: Andy Emilio, Bob Kravitz
Director of photography: Bobby Bukowski
Production designer: Marla Weinhoff
Editor: David Leonard
Music supervisor: Tracy McKnight
Costume designer: Eric Daman
Cast:
Melody Wiler: Saffron Burrows
Roscoe Wasz: Isaach de Bankole
Constance "Cookie" Clemente: Paz de la Huerta
Young Mel: Mia Kucan
Mr. Laffs: Adam Trese
Dr. Murray: Janeane Garofalo
Running time -- 95 minutes
No MPAA rating

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