'A Reason': Film Review

Courtesy of Indican Pictures
Marion Ross has seen far happier days than with this turgid melodrama.

Familial conflicts result after the reading of a wealthy matriarch's will in Dominique Schilling's feature debut.

In the publicity notes for her feature directorial debut, writer/director Dominique Schilling explains that she was inspired to make her film after walking through a villa in the Pacific Palisades that was scheduled to be torn down.

"I went into a trance and wrote what I saw in my head," she says.

Well, ok. But does that mean that the rest of us have to see it too?

The result, obliquely entitled A Reason, is an overwrought family melodrama involving that hoariest of clichés, the reading of a will. Except in this case the document's author is not actually dead, but rather dying, of pancreatic cancer. She's the controlling, wealthy Aunt Irene, played by Marion Ross (the beloved Mrs. C of Happy Days, who surely deserves better material than this.)

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Among those eagerly waiting to hear who will be the beneficiaries of Aunt Irene's largesse are her granddaughter Serena (Magda Apanowicz); a lesbian 20-something whose scars from a recent suicide attempt are at one point dramatically revealed; preppy grandson Nathan (Nick Eversman), whose scheming ways are immediately signaled by the sweater worn over his shoulders; another grandson, Chris (Ron Melendez), and Chris' wife foreign-born wife Bianca (Madeleine Falk).

Aunt Irene, the sort of matriarchal bully who upon spotting Serena's nose ring, sneers, "Just like your mother," is saddled with the most cringeworthy dialogue, and that's saying something. Typical example: aware that her recently arrived offspring are all too blatantly vying for her fortune, she tells her dog, "You're not the only animal in the family now…we have vultures."

To quote further lines from the ham-fisted screenplay would be too painful for everyone concerned. But if you insist, here's Nathan's reaction when it's announced that all of Aunt Irene's assets will be divided equally among the group, including Bianca, who he does not consider a member of the family.

"Such a wise decision," he comments, with all the sincerity of Marc Antony addressing the Romans after the assassination of Julius Caesar.

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The plot involves endless familial strife, including Aunt Irene's cutting Serena from her will after discovering her sexuality and becoming equally irate when she finds out that Bianca has no intention of having children.

Schilling the director proves even less adept than Schilling the screenwriter, bathing the melodramatic proceedings in an overbearing musical score more appropriate for a daytime soap. Not surprisingly, the actors fare poorly under the circumstances, although Ross, clearly enjoying the opportunity to play a harder-edged role than usual, displays her customary admirable professionalism. But by the time Serena's long-lost mother (Roxanne Hart) unexpectedly shows up to announce her loving support for her gay child in what is supposed to be the film's heartwarming moment, viewers will have little reason to care about A Reason.   

Cast: Magda Apanowicz, Nick Eversman, Marion Ross, Roxanne Hart, Ron Melendez, Madeleine Falk
Production: Risberg Schilling Productions
Director/screenwriter: Dominique Schilling
Producer: Caroline Risberg
Executive producer: Chris Titzer
Director of photography: Matths Schubert
Production designers: Madelaine Frezza, Krystyna Loboda
Editor: Brad Durante
Costume designer: Alex Khater
Composer: Kim Planert
Casting: Michael Sanford

Not rated, 112 min.