Snow Angels

Glenn (Sam Rockwell) is a born-again Christian who’s unemployed, back living with his parents and still desperately heartbroken over the end of his marriage with Annie (Kate Beckinsale), with whom he has a young daughter. Annie’s having a hard time raising said daughter by herself while working a shitty job in a Chinese restaurant, on top of which she’s unwisely involved in a tryst with the husband (Nicky Katt) of her best friend (Amy Sedaris). Meanwhile, Arthur (Michael Angarano), a dorky teenager who plays trombone in the high school marching band and works part-time at the same restaurant as Annie, who used to be his babysitter, is dealing with the imminent divorce of his parents (Jeannetta Arnette and Griffin Dunne), all while being caught in the throes of young love with a classmate (Olivia Thirlby).

“Snow Angels” is the fourth feature by one of my very favorite filmmakers, David Gordon Green. Superficially, one could mistake this adaptation of the 1994 Stewart O’Nan novel for an attempt by Green to go mainstream, what with him casting big names like Beckinsale and Rockwell, toning down the idiosyncratic dialogue and Malickesque lyricism and, instead of making an unlikely super-hero flick like “George Washington” or an offbeat romance like “All the Real Girls”, telling a more conventional tale about estranged couples, adultery, parenthood, coming of age and so on – not unlike “The Ice Storm” or “American Beauty”, basically.

But “Snow Angels” is actually quite close in spirit to Green’s first two movies (I’m intentionally leaving out his third, “Undertow”, which felt a bit too disconnected, even by the director’s own impressionistic standards), similarly going for what could be described as small-town whimsy, with an ensemble of quirky characters, a bittersweet tone and an effortless sense of time and place. You might have noticed that while I briefly described the characters, I’ve yet to tell you much about the plot. I won’t give you more details now either, you can discover those when you see the film, but I will mention that all the interwoven storylines are wonderfully handled by Green, who organically makes them flow into each other.

At first, “Snow Angels” is surprisingly comic, with a lot of what seems like great adlibs by Rockwell (“If Tom Cruise was a little girly-girly, he would look like you”) and juicy turns by scene-stealers Sedaris and Katt (in a part that could have been played by the soon to be ubiquitous Danny McBride who, incidentally, made his screen debut in “All the Real Girls” and will reunite with Green in the upcoming “Pineapple Express”). The film then grows surprisingly dark, with characters that initially seemed fun and endearingly screwed up turning out to be way more troubled than we thought…

Add the gorgeous winter cinematography by Tim Orr and the evocative score by David Wingo (which is supported by tracks borrowed from the likes of Mt. Egypt, Uno Dose and Montreal’s Silver Mt. Zion), and you might get an idea of the delicate beauty of “Snow Angels”.