Naked as We Came: Film Review
Richard LeMay's drama concerns the tension-filled reunion between a dying mother and her two grown children.
It’s salacious and misleading title notwithstanding, Naked as We Came emerges as a thoughtful, sensitive exploration of strained family dynamics that only occasionally verges on melodrama. This measured, claustrophobic drama about a pair of siblings reuniting with their terminally ill mother has a hermetic quality that can prove off-putting, but fine performances and gorgeous wide-screen cinematography provide some compensation.
Elliot (Ryan Vigilant) and his sister, Laura (Karmine Alers), have not seen their estranged mother, Lily (Lue McWilliams), for over a year by the time they arrive at her gorgeous country home, and it’s immediately evident that that Lily is suffering from terminal cancer and that she has very little time left.
The take-charge Laura insists on sending Lily to the hospital, but the dying matriarch will have none of it. Instead, she insists on repairing the rifts that have formed between her and her children, a process potentially complicated by the presence of Ted (Benjamin Weaver), her hunky groundskeeper who also happens to be a best-selling novelist.
Much to Laura’s consternation and Lily’s delight, Ted and Elliot soon wind up sleeping together, although the encounter is not without its repercussions: “I think this might have been a poor choice on my part,” Elliot says afterward to the chagrined Ted. The liaison sets off a chain of emotionally charged confrontations, with the grown children loudly expressing their resentment at Lily for having been a bad mother and having left them in charge of the family’s successful chain of laundromats.
A principal subplot, and one that partially explains the familial rift, is that Lily once had an affair with a famous politician and was forced to marry their father, a man she didn’t love.
The tortured family dynamics on display don’t exactly reach Eugene O’Neill levels of profundity, and the dialogue is often cringe-worthy, with the dying Lily instructing her children not to “sweat the small stuff” and declaring that “we all leave the same way we came in … naked and alone.”
The film works better in its smaller, quieter moments, such as when Lily tenderly encourages her daughter to sing at the dinner table, vividly illustrating that it was a shame that she never pursued her musical aspirations.
Director/screenwriter Richard LeMay effectively establishes a melancholic atmosphere that, while at times bordering on the lugubrious, well befits the characters and situations.
Adding to the film’s impact is the powerful performance by McWillams, who infuses her character with a combination of steeliness and physical frailty that is deeply moving.
Opens Sept. 13 (Centaur Entertainment)
Production: Garden House Entertainment
Cast: Ryan Vigilant, Karmine Alers, Benjamin Weaver, Lue McWilliams, Sturgis Adams
Director/screenwriter: Richard LeMay
Producers: Nia Hatsopoulos Jephson, Richard LeMay
Director of photography: Vitaly Bokser
Editor: Alexander Hammer
Composer: Adonis Tsilimparis
Not rated, 90 min.