A dose of hard reality infuses Snow Angels

The opening scene of "Snow Angels" shows us a typical day after school in a small Pennsylvanian town.

The football players are in their pads, warming up before practice starts. The marching band is butchering both their formations and Peter Gabriel’s "Sledgehammer," while their band instructor looks on in disgust. His twitches show his frustration, so he calls a halt to practice to try to motivate uninterested teenagers.

He pauses for breath after his pep-talk starts sounding more like a mental breakdown. In that pause, the echoes of gunshots ring out, breathing life and tragedy into a sleepy town.

Like other movies dealing with a mystery, or interweaving relationships, it flashes back to a few weeks prior, where some unraveling clues are picked up.

We meet Annie (Kate Beckinsdale), an attractive single mother who works as a waitress in a Chinese restaurant with her friend Barb (Amy Sedaris) and Arthur (Michael Angarano), the boy she used to baby-sit while she was in high school.

In between caring for her daughter and mother, and carrying on a motel room affair, she is also dealing with the advances of Glenn (Sam Rockwell), her separated from husband who cannot seem to hold down a job.

After a failed suicide attempt, Glenn is trying to get his life back on track. He turns to religion to set his path straight, gets a job, and bring his wife and daughter back to him so they can be that happy family from years before.

In juxtaposition to that sordid mess, we have the blossoming and sweet courtship of Arthur and Lila (Olivia Thirlby). She adores his adolescent awkwardness and he shows his affection by sharpening and giving her a new pencil for her photography class. Both their characters and their new relationship are the bright spots in this otherwise depressing movie.

The scenes switch between these two relationships throughout the movie. We go from laughing at Arthur, who slips on a patch of ice at band practice while Lila looks on, to back to the gloomy adult atmosphere when Annie and Glenn come back on screen.

In some ways, these relationships seem parallel. It quietly ponders the question of whether Annie and Glenn could have been like Arthur and Lila in high school. The movie does not flash back to their first years together, but you get the sense it happened that way also. You also wonder whether Arthur and Lila could end up like Annie and Glenn – separated but can’t get away from each other. One in a physical sense, and the other from a mental part.

Despite its heavy-handed darkness, there is some well-placed humor infused into this movie, most of it being from the men; Glenn with his drunken speeches, and Arthur with his boyish charms.

Without the right director and actors, this movie could easily been an ordinary made for TV movie. However, independent director David Gordon Green creates an ominous atmosphere with the musical score by Jeff Mcllwain and David Wingo and gets terrific performances by the cast, especially Beckinsdale. In most movies, single mothers are often portrayed as emotionally absent or overbearing. Annie is somewhere in between. She desperately wants to get away, but she is grounded by the choices made from her past.

This is a hard movie to decipher. It wants to be a mystery and I don’t want to give too much away.

I will say that within the first few minutes, you get the sense of what might happen, but it is still like a punch when the final 30 minutes come. On most occasions, I like my movies with a dose of realism, and "Snow Angels" definitely provides that. In fact, it may be too real for some.

I gave this film a B+.

Dedra Cordle is a Messenger staff writer.

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