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Family movies don’t generally begin with its 10-year-old central character announcing that he’s dead. Nor do they typically feature the spectacle of a frozen corpse.
But despite — or perhaps because of — such unconventional elements, Snowmen turns out to be a surprisingly effective debut effort from writer-director Robert Kirbyson.
Recently given its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, the film might prove a bit too offbeat for mainstream theatrical success, though it might well prove popular on DVD and cable.
Set in a wintry mountain town, the story centers on Billy (Bobby Coleman), a 10-year-old whose ever-present wool beanie signals something besides cold temperatures. Indeed, it turns out that Billy, still bald from the effects of chemotherapy, is convinced that he’s going to die after a recent bout with cancer. Determined to make some sort of impact on the world before he goes, he decides to attempt to break the world record for the most snowmen created in a single day.
Along the way, he and his friends have to cope with various adolescent problems ranging from the bizarre (the aforementioned corpse, which mysteriously shows up on his front lawn) to the familiar (menacing bullies, etc.).
Observing his son’s efforts with concern is his father, Reggie (Ray Liotta), a used-car salesman with a penchant for outrageous stunts and in-your-face television commercials.
The film is not fully successful in blending its comedic and dramatic elements, and some sections — like Billy falling under the ice into a frozen pond — might be disturbing for younger viewers. But it’s refreshing to encounter a family film that doesn’t pander to the lowest common denominator and addresses the sort of emotional issues to which adolescents can actually relate.
The performances are first-rate: Young newcomer Coleman is touching in the central role without succumbing to bathos; Liotta, in a nice departure from his standard tough-guy parts, handles the comedic and dramatic aspects of his role with aplomb; and Christopher Lloyd provides a wonderfully understated cameo as a gravedigger who teaches Billy and his friends a vital lesson.
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (MPower Distribution)
Production: MPower Pictures
Cast: Bobby Coleman, Bobb’e J. Thompson, Christian Martyn, Josh Flitter, Doug E. Doug, Christopher Lloyd, Ray Liotta
Director-screenwriter: Robert Kirbyson
Producers: Stephen McEveety, David Segel, John Sheperd
Executive producers: Ray Liotta, Diane Hendricks, Tina Segal, Bill O’Kane
Director of photography: Geno Salvatori
Editor: Catherine Kirbyson
Production designer: Christopher R. DeMuri
Costume designer: Carolyn Leone
Music: John Debney
No rating, 86 minutes
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