SIFF 2017: ‘Entanglement’ Movie Review

by Warren Cantrell on May 25, 2017

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Minor Rock Fist Up]

A postmodern meditation on mental health and manic-pixie-dream-girl tropes, Entanglement has a lot of great ideas and slick moves, even if it does sometimes feel like 6 ounces of steak sitting alone on a 12-inch plate. Indeed, at 80 short minutes, the whole effort feels a bit lean, yet what remains is indeed delicious, and possessed of enough flavor and nourishment to get one through the meal.

The film opens with its lead, Ben (Thomas Middleditch), sitting alone in his apartment as he pens a suicide note. Ben has rigged a series of hoses to his car’s exhaust to pipe CO2 into his room, and is just beginning to succumb to the fumes when a thief drives off with his ride. Disappointed but not especially surprised, Ben begins to look around his apartment for an alternative, and finally settles on a pocketknife and his bathtub. Yet even this surefire alternative proves ineffective, and through a series of coincidences, Ben survives.

The movie skips ahead to catch up with Ben a few weeks later as he’s talking to a reluctant therapist, Dr. Layten (Marilyn Norry), who knows that the millennial before her needs more than a half hour a week and some Prozac. Newly divorced, fresh off a suicide attempt, and with emerging symptoms of schizophrenia, Ben has serious issues that need to be worked out, and doesn’t seem to have the desire or tools necessary to get better. At home, the audience learns that Ben has become fixated with the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, and thinks that his life can be diagnosed and cured. To this end, he charts out his life’s major milestones to identify the moment(s) when his sad reality veered off from the happy one that could have been. To Ben, everything can be fixed if he realigns his reality from the point where it went off the rails.

Yet Ben’s world is thrown further into upheaval when his father has a heart attack. As he is being wheeled into the operating room, Ben’s dad tells his son that Ben nearly had an adopted sister, but that his folks had to give the girl back after less than a day when they learned that Ben’s mom was pregnant with him. Convinced that this “lost” sister is the key to his skewed reality, Ben sets off to find this mystery woman so that he might get his life back on its proper course. By coincidence, this lost sister turns out to be Hanna (Jess Weixler), a mysterious stranger Ben met only one day before he set off on his “quest” as he calls it.

Director Jason James does a good job keeping his story moving, albeit at the expense of some character building that might have helped ground his lead and the world he inhabits. Ben’s immediate story is all the audience gets a look at, and except for the fact that he’s divorced, mentally ill, and on his quest, there’s little to know about him. What Ben does for a living, the specifics of his community, and his life before the events of Entanglement are all question marks, and leave the picture with a narrow focus. And while it is fitting that Ben is low-key and devoid of any real spark (he’s suicidal, after all, and it is implied that he’s heavily medicated), it leaves the movie without a compelling lead to drive the narrative.

In fact, the most fully formed and relatable person in the film is Ben’s neighbor, Tabby (Diana Bang), who in her sparse screen time comes across as genuine in a way that no one else in the film does. Tabby has a job, reasonable concerns, and represents the majority of Ben’s support circle. She checks in on him regularly, raises valid concerns about Ben’s quantum mechanics theories, and has serious reservations about Ben’s new obsession, Hanna.

And whoa boy: if ever there was reason to be concerned about a friend falling into the orbit of a woman, it would be because of a person like Hanna. Weixler does magnificent work injecting an enticing blend of sexy, mischievous, smart, and dangerous into the character, whose allure is simultaneously understandable and frightening. She’s fearless and bold in all the ways that Ben isn’t, yet sees something in the guy that no one else does. The two fall for each other in short order, and what develops threatens to either push Ben off his own personal ledge, or pull him back from it.

As the audience learns more about Hanna, and she and Ben grow closer, breadcrumbs sprinkled throughout the picture begin to form into a thru-line that connects the characters and the themes of the picture. What starts as a quirky look at the cheekier side of mental illness a-la The Royal Tenenbaums and Garden State evolves into a serious treatise on what it means to grieve, grow, and move on. Entanglement also has a lot to say about cause, effect, destiny, and the mechanics of the universe, and considering its run-time, the picture does a decent job corralling all these high-level ideas.

Currently playing at this year’s Seattle International Film Festival, Entanglement sometimes bites off more than it can chew, yet still manages to keep everything down without choking. Buoyed by strong performances from Weixler, Middleditch, and Bang, along with a patient and steady hand behind the camera, the film has a lot to say about a little, and says it in an entirely new way that somehow still comes off as familiar.

“Obvious Child” is the debut novel of Warren Cantrell, a film and music critic based out of Seattle, Washington. Mr. Cantrell has covered the Sundance and Seattle International Film Festivals, and provides regular dispatches for Scene-Stealers and his own site, 10rant.com. Warren holds a B.A. and M.A. in History, and his hobbies include bourbon drinking, novel writing, and full-contact kickboxing. Mr. Cantrell is happily unmarried, and without any children, pets, or plants.

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