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Louder Than Words: Hamptons Review

The Bottom Line

True story of grief and philanthropy makes for unengaging drama.

Venue

Hamptons International Film Festival

Cast

David Duchovny, Hope Davis, Timothy Hutton, Olivia Steele Falconer, Adelaide Kane, Ben Rosenfield, Morgan Griffin, Craig Bierko, Xander Berkeley, Victoria Tennant

Director

Anthony Fabian

David Duchovny and Hope Davis play wealthy parents who build a hospital when their daughter dies.

Typically, a rich person who decides to build something for his community gets to put his name on the building, take a nice tax benefit, and enjoy the temporary delusion that his neighbors have forgotten anything unpleasant he did to make all that money. If Anthony Fabian's Louder than Words is a sign of things to come, society's benefactors may soon decide they also need to have the story of their charity told on the big screen, with much better-looking stars reenacting their soul-searching and the hurdles they overcame.

Fortunately for those of us who feel there's already enough self-congratulation in philanthropic circles, this Lifetime-grade pic is bad enough to have no impact, a vanity project whose ostensible story -- a grieving dad fights bureaucracy to build a children's hospital honoring his dead daughter -- is one of the least dramatic things put on screen in recent years. What's left is a maudlin tale about how grief turns family members against one another, one that would be wholly unengaging if not for the presence of Hope Davis and David Duchovny as the mourning parents.

The actors play John and Brenda, real-estate developers in Greenwich, Connecticut whose career building luxury homes has ruffled feathers even in one of the world's wealthiest communities. They're introduced in voiceover by daughter Maria (Olivia Steele Falconer), a sparkly youngster with curly hair who tells viewers -- who've presumably read the synopsis or seen a trailer, and therefore know she's about to die -- that "this is not a sad story." Rounded out by a set of teenage triplets, the family is an unremarkable specimen, its biggest problems being occasional prickliness from the older kids and Dad's lack of communication skills. Maria considers herself "the glue" that holds them together.

On a camping trip, she suffers a bat bite without even realizing it. When she starts to suffer joint pain and headaches days later, Maria is first diagnosed with encephalitis; eventually, testing reveals that she has contracted rabies, for which there is no treatment. She dies, leaving siblings and parents who are ill-equipped to deal with the loss. Her brother stops eating and going to class; one sister heads cross-country with a boyfriend nobody's met; John gets even more uncommunicative while Brenda obsesses over housecleaning.

During Maria's illness, John and Brenda were given the hospital's V.I.P. treatment -- having done business with an administrator, John is always attended by someone from the main office. Even so, they were struck by the place's inhospitable feel. John decides he'll build a more humane institution in his daughter's honor.

Screenwriter Benjamin Chapin doesn't feel it necessary to show John telling Brenda about this life-changing plan, or to dawdle over his recruitment of a consultant (Timothy Hutton) who'll help with fundraising and planning. And he doesn't seem to understand that simply announcing the presence of conflict doesn't constitute a third act. In two or three scenes, administrators and politicians list some presumably daunting obstacles to the hospital project; wearing his best "sorry, wasn't listening" face, Duchovny ignores the naysayers. In between scenes, hurdles are overcome.

Somewhere along the way, the family raises $30 million, enough to jump-start construction on a family-friendly hospital that opened in 2004. One wonders how much good could have been done with the money raised to make this movie.

Production Company: Identity Films

Cast: David Duchovny, Hope Davis, Timothy Hutton, Olivia Steele Falconer, Adelaide Kane, Ben Rosenfield, Morgan Griffin, Craig Bierko, Xander Berkeley, Victoria Tennant

Director: Anthony Fabian

Screenwriter: Benjamin Chapin

Producer: Julie Fareri

Executive producer: Rod Lurie

Director of photography: Elliot Davis

Production designer: Franckie Diago

Music: Geoff Zanelli

Costume designer: Doug Hall

Editor: Melissa Kent

Sales: Kevin Iwashina, Preferred Content

No rating, 93 minutes