'The Looking Glass': Film Review

The Looking Glass Still - H 2015
Courtesy of David Hunter/Film Acres

In her first screen role in decades, Tristan delivers an affecting performance.

Veteran director John Hancock directs his wife Dorothy Tristan in this family drama, which she scripted.

The Looking Glass literally represents a labor of love for its creators. This collaboration between director John Hancock (Bang the Drum Slowly, Weeds, Prancer) and his wife of 40 years, actress Dorothy Tristan, is a moving homegrown effort that marks the latter's return to screen acting after a hiatus of nearly three decades. 

Tristan wrote the screenplay for this low-budget project filmed in the couple's longtime home of La Porte County, Indiana, and clearly reflecting a Midwest aesthetic. The 73-year-old actress, known for her acclaimed performances in such '70s-era films as Klute and Scarecrow, plays the lead role of Karen, a retired actress who takes in her 13-year-old granddaughter Julie (Grace Tarnow) after the untimely death of the girl's mother.

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Dealing with the onset of dementia, Karen finds her hands full with the troubled teen. But after the two get over their initial discomfort with each other, they bond over Karen's discovery that Julie has a beautiful singing voice. Karen encourages her to audition for an amateur production of a musical based on Alice in Wonderland, and Julie gets the part. She also begins a romance with a local boy (Griffin Carlson), which, when it doesn't end well, causes her to make a half-hearted suicide attempt that triggers a heart attack in her elderly caretaker and precipitates the return of her father (Anthony Panzica) and stepmother (Faith Marie).

The film handles its aging and dementia subplots with admirable subtlety, with the exception of such heavy-handed moments as a black-and-white dream sequence in which Karen sees the ghost of her late husband, who assures her, "I will wait for you." And a late-in-the-game revelation about Julie's true paternity feels melodramatically tacked on.

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Still, the film is touching in its depiction of the complexly drawn relationship between the central female characters, with Tristan delivering a superb late-career performance and Tarnow demonstrating a winning charisma as well as strong singing chops. In a sentimental moment that can be easily forgiven, director Hancock pays tribute to his longtime wife and collaborator via a series of photos in which her luminous beauty is amply displayed.

Production: Filmacres
Cast: Dorothy Tristan, Grace Tarnow, Griffin Carlson, Jeff Puckett, Anthony Panzica, Faith Marie
Director: John Hancock
Screenwriter: Dorothy Tristan
Producers Doreen Bartoni, Andrew Tallackson, Allen Turner, Kelly Daisy
Executive producer: Garth H. Drabinsky
Director of photography: Misha Suslov
Editor: Dennis M. O'Connor
Costume designer: Richard Donnelly
Composer: Orville Stoeber
Casting: Susan Willett

Not rated, 110 min.