“When you alter gravity, you affect time.” — Albert Einstein
At what point will a good story trump a pedestrian production? Richie Mehta the writer is one helluva thing, but Richie Mehta the director, well, he gets the job done, but at times comes dangerously close to breaking what is one of the best time travel screenplays, well, since Looper, anyway. I’ll Follow You Down is both literally and thematically a pregnant title for a time travel flick that shows the hubris of the father visited on the son and jeopardizes the happiness and emotional stability of not one, but two, possibly even three families. It dwells on tangent universes, fuzzy mathematics, and keeping the parents together with their children (their very existence), thus merging some of the best elements from Donnie Darko and Back To The Future, even if it remains resolutely focused on being existentially emotive drama.
I empathize with the production house that has to cut the trailer for this small Canadian Indie film, because anything beyond the first act counts as major spoilers. You cannot give anything away without unraveling the whole ball of quantum yarn. As with many time machine movies, things are so very entangled. Suffice it to say that ultimately the film delivers some great questions on how a man (or a woman) has a career that might change the work, but still be home for dinner and a good family life. It also dwells on what luck or tragedies make someone who they are, and the dangers of too much hope through technological meddling of such things. There are going to be consequences regardless of whether anyone remembers which universe is the ‘right’ one, and cause and effect is a sticky, dangerous game.
Still with me? Here is the trailer, the set-up proposition of the the film that seems to bumble along for a time before all the strands are spun into something: Gabriel (Rufus Sewell, greying a bit the temples, but back in Dark City mode!) plays chess with his young son, Erol, before going on a business trip; the game remains unfinished, pieces in play until he returns. Planting kisses upon his wife, Marika (Gillian Anderson), gently but passionately, at the airport gate, she reminds him to say “Hi” to her father, Sal (the always solid Victor Garber), who is providing some extra lab space for Gabriel’s personal project in the physics department at Princeton. Markia promises him a nice family meal upon his return. But this never happens. And a family is left without a father, while the chess game remains unfinished. Marika and Sal investigate, but a decade passes.
The moment that Haley Joel Osment shows up on screen as the grown-up version of Erol is a jarring one. I remain unclear if it is the bad filmmaking grammar, because the direction here at the best of times is pedestrian-level television variety, or if the writer-director Richie Mehta intends it to be a jarring story beat. The kid playing the young version looks nothing like the actor the world is familiar with from films like The Sixth Sense and A.I., and the older Erol is a reintroduction to Osment the man, now a thick twenty-something sporting a beard and a veritable shag carpet of body hair. Clearly, Osment still has solid enough acting chops, even as there is barely a shred of wide-eyed childish innocence in his face, now looking more like a lumberjack.
The movie is also uncomfortably wobbly for a moment because it looks like Marika is simply returning from investigating her husband’s disappearance, not a time lapse of 12 years. Things were just getting going in one story, that of a disturbing disappearance and a procedural investigation, before we jump forward in time to an entirely different one. There is nothing of this kind of ‘screw with your audience’ editing in the rest of the film, and things move past that moment of confusion. But, like the film, I digress … I’m glad to have Osment back.
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