I find that when I watch a film, what I respond to the most is often the actors. All the art design and the special effects in the world can’t approach the feelings living breathing humans can generate. Of course it helps immensely for thespians to have a well written screenplay to work from, but even when the writing is uneven it can be elevated by engaging performers. Such is the case with “Julie Walking Home”, a potentially ridiculous or pretentious Canadian/German/Polish production that is involving nonetheless thanks to its great cast.
Miranda Otto plays Julie, a Polish Canadian mother of two who is devastated to find her husband Henry (William Fichtner) in bed with another man. She doesn’t even want to hear his excuses, she just bolts out the door and goes to stay with her father (Jerzy Nowak) even though he’s overbearing and hardly understanding. To make matters more complicated, the old widower tells Julie he is expecting his mail-order bride (Boguslawa Schubert) to arrive the next night and worse of all, her son Nicholas (Ryan Smith) is diagnosed with cancer. Talk about a lousy couple of days! This is the stuff melodrama is made of, and director Agnieszka Holland makes it all seem even more overwhelming with frantic hand-held camerawork, an aggressive sound mix and a very present score by Anton Gross.
This film throws subtlety out the window, runs it over with a truck, backs up and runs it over again. It’s up to the actors to keep the film grounded and somewhat realistic. Miranda Otto is particularly good, managing to keep her character compelling through all the questionable twists and turns of the script (she can sing, too- they need to cast her in one of the inevitable musicals that will follow Chicago’s Oscar win). A few of her scenes are needlessly hysterical, but I reckon that’s a directorial choice; she did more understated and touching work as Eowyn in The Two Towers. William Fichtner also has obligatory scenes where he yells and starts breaking stuff, but it’s in the quieter, more ambiguous scenes where we can see what a stimulating actor he can be. Convincing as well are Ryan Smith and Bianca Crudo as the kids.
And then there’s Lothaire Bluteau, the ever consuming star of Denys Arcand’s “Jésus de Montréal”, playing another spiritual healer whom Julie takes Nicholas to in hope of miraculously curing his tumor. It’s quite odd how this little family drama turns into a new-agey journey of self-discovery halfway through. The dying kid is almost an excuse, as he’s soon ditched so the film can focus on Julie’s fascination with Bluteau’s character, which soon evolves into a romantic affair. Again, the actors’ talent goes a long way in keeping our interest and the scenes between Bluteau and Otto are rather sensual. The movie’s calmed down by now, too, which is the point I guess, though it’s not quite clear what we’re supposed to get out it. Still, “Julie Walking Home” is a moving enough film and just watching these actors makes it worth seeing.