(ARC ENTERTAINMENT/IDENTITY FILMS (93 minutes, Rated PG-13); 2014)
For me, ambivalence is not an option for a film like LOUDER THAN WORDS; either I like such fare very much or hate it vehemently. I knew that the script was based on a true story which, depending on the screenwriter, the director, the principal stars and – yes – the subject matter, could signal disaster or thought-provoking, uplifting confirmations about life, family and the inherent good within each of us. The first few minutes of LOUDER THAN WORDS had me leaning toward disaster… to the point that I nearly hit the “stop” button on the remote. But, I hung in and, thankfully, was rewarded with story about life and death and family dynamics that seem, in some part, to reflect each of us.
So, is LOUDER… perfect? No, the movie definitely has problems, which I’ll address shortly. First, though, here’s the basic gist of the story (no spoilers here, as the story has been well documented): John and Brenda Fareri (played by David Duchovny and Hope Davis) are a well-to-do couple devastated after the loss of their 13 year old daughter, Maria (Olivia Steele-Falconer), to a rare strain of rabies. Maria, a vibrant and loving child, was the glue that held the Ferari family unit together. John – always the thoughtful, quiet one – seems to become more insular and withdrawn, alienating Brenda and their other children (from Brenda’s previous marriage), triplets Stephanie, Michael and Julie (Adelaide Kane, Ben Rosenfield and Morgan Griffin), each grieving in their own fashion and wondering why the man they call Father has abandoned them. At one point, one of the girls tells her Mother that she fels like things are back to the way they were before John became a part of their family: Like they didn’t have a Father. John gains focus when he decides to build a new children’s hospital to better serve the needs of the whole family and to make the kids feel – if not at home – a little more comfortable about their hospital stay. Of course, everybody thinks that John has driven off the rails somewhere, including city leaders, rich friends and the consultant (Bruce Komiske, played by Timothy Hutton) he hires to help bring his dream to fruition. An eventual kitchen showdown between Brenda and John allows both to vent and gain a modicum of understanding of the pain the other is feeling. From there, it isn’t a great stretch to bring Brenda and the three kids on board and start the ball (and donations) rolling. The previous despair is replaced by a sense of hope and a desire to help others in the Fareri’s situation.
The film is narrated by Maria, who is initially seen riding her bicycle on a beautiful fall day (or, maybe, she’s in Heaven). I originally found this premise a bit dubious, to say the least but, as the story progresses, it seems somehow natural that she would be the one to tell this story. LOUDER THAN WORDS encompasses approximately seven years, boiled down into a compact 90-minute package; and, therein, lies the bulk of my problems with the movie. Sometimes it just seems too much like watching MTV on speed for its own good. The film bounces back and forth between past and present, generally via family remembrances, with too many quick cuts and edits and little “black-out” vignettes meant to move the story forward as quickly as possible. Producer Anthony Mastromauro says, in the “behind the scenes” bonus feature, “I think any time you’re telling a story that spans a number of years, the non-linear structure can work in your favor.” Or not, sir. While I did find the movie engaging and the story a great affirmation of life, I would very much have preferred a more traditional, linear telling (which the film does revert to eventually) and, maybe, about another 30-minutes to flesh out a few of those frustrating vignettes.
Some of John’s flashback sequences are akin to Agent Mulder’s search for his sister (and the truth, which is out there… or so we’re told) in THE X FILES. And, now that I think about it, the hospital where Maria dies kinda looks like one of those draped-in-shadows secret government facilities that Scully and Mulder would occasionally find themselves searching for that truth. As is often the case with a death in the family (particularly a young child), the survivors each handle the loss in their own way. The Fareri family’s coping mechanisms may seem a bit over the top, but… try to put yourself in their shoes (heck, you may have been in those shoes yourself once). I haven’t lost a child, but I watched my Mother go through it twice; it’s a pain that never goes away. So, anyway… the kids are suitably sullen; Brenda is devastated, confused and angry… in that order; John is, first, zombie-like, then, inconsolable and, finally, driven. With Bruce Komiske on board, John and he begin to knock on the doors of the wealthy and the powerful. At one point, a consultant mentions that the best way to build a new hospital is by putting a donor’s name on the building; John steadfastly declares that the hospital will bear his daughter’s name. That is the attitude that has his family and friends, at first, questioning his sanity and, later, joining him in the fight to give these children and their families a state-of-the-art facility, as well as a sense of hope.
Duchovny’s performance is understated, sometimes to the point that he appears to be mumbling his lines; he very rarely raises his voice, but when he does, it’s with authority and passion. The sincerity in the faces and eyes of Duchovny, Davis and Hutton are real. In the “behind the scenes” documentary, they each declare how much they believed in this story and how much they believed that it was one that should be told… standard quotes for any actor about any of their projects. This time, though, that same sincerity is in their eyes. They aren’t just giving lip service, they really mean it. Rosenfield, Kane and Griffin play the lost and hurting triplets as if they’re walking through a very bad dream; and, that’s exactly what it feels like, especially when you feel like you’ve lost your parents, too. Olivia Steele-Falconer, at times, seems to be in over her head and overreaching to compensate but, when it’s all said and done, she delivers a moving performance. The Fareri family were all involved in the production of LOUDER THAN WORDS and, I couldn’t imagine how hard that must have been, particularly when they would see this little girl playing their daughter and the uncanny resemblance to Maria.
So, I told you that it wasn’t perfect and I stated my reasons for that assessment. If you don’t feel the same way I do about the editing style and non-linear storytelling, then by all means, you should check out LOUDER THAN WORDS. It truly is a story that had to be told.