I believe I've stated before that I am not a big fan of Dysfunctional Family Dramas.
I always leave thinking "Jesus, you think you people have difficulty communicating, or understanding one another? You're obviously confused. I can explain to you what true, violent dysfunctionality is." Additionally, there are always those intense scenes of emotional turmoil between two or more of the parties that gives one the same creepy feeling one might experience after having walked in on one's parents schtupping like wild animals. It's all too personal and so much more than you ever wanted to know about anyone that close to you. My good friend Brian, over at Canal Place, however, said that he understood my reticence, but that this particular Dysfunctional Family Drama I should see. Trusting Brian, as I do, I said let's go for it.
The movie stars and was produced by, among others, Noah Wyle. Noah plays Warren, a rather hapless young man preparing for his first trip home for Thanksgiving in three years. Warren comes across, in the early scenes of the movie, as a nice young man who is wounded by displays of anger or aggression. His father Hal, played to perfection by Roy Scheider, is a curmudgeon. He is a completely self-involved, hedonistic narcissist. He makes it quite clear to all that he would rather they not have come for the holiday at all. Warren's mother Lena (Blythe Danner) is a long-suffering doormat. She sees all the tension, the animosity, and the bad behavior, but takes it all in stride, even though she, like Warren, seems to be wounded by it all. She has no control at all over her husband or her children.
The children, and the way they relate to one another and their parents, is the meat of this film. Warren has a very hard time being around Mia (Julianne Moore), who in general behaves like a bitter queen. Everything in Mia's life is a complaint or a criticism. The only person she has a positive emotional exchange with in this film is Leonard/Cezanne, a boy with whom she went to grammar school, and who couldn't care less about her dour affect. Mia can't even get along with Eliot (Brian Kerwin), the man she has brought along for this holiday. Of course Eliot can't seem to fit in with anyone, except maybe Leigh, the youngest sibling, who appears to be quite the randy girl. Leigh's job in the family is that of fire starter. If there is someone who needs needling or embarrassing, Leigh is there to perform her task, with relish. She finds in Marguerate (Hope Davis) a co-conspirator. Marguerate is Jake's current love interest. She is mischievous, emotionally stable, and has a healthy sexual appetite. Warren's brother Jake is a mix of everyone. He wants the peace that Warren wants, but has the doormat attitude of his mother, and the narcissistic qualities of his father. All in the family seem to view Jake, more or less, as a piece of furniture.
Daphne (Arij Bareikis) is the key to the film's theme. Daphne was Warren's girlfriend three years ago. During the holiday festivities Warren's father Hal, exiting the bathroom, encounters Daphne in the hallway. They do a little drunken shuffle of a dance at which point the old lecher tries tonguing the girl's tonsils. She is mortified; he, oblivious. She was, however, affected enough by the incident to leave Warren behind as she pursued her acting career. Daphne spends three years trying to deal with the guilt she feels-the anger at Warren's family for not doing something about Hal-and her confusion about who Warren is, given his interaction with his family. The culmination of the theme is the scene in which Warren confesses to Daphne that he had actually witnessed the incident in the hallway. The theme is that to be truly happy you have to come to understand who and what you are, and share that honestly. Warren does and ends the film by climbing into Daphne's car to drive away with her, leaving the rest of the family to continue their rather muddled lives.
The Myth of Fingerprints is a beautifully filmed story. The lighting is as dark and diffuse as the family members themselves. Each scene's lighting is representative of the characters involved or of the action taking place. There are breathtaking shots of the New England countryside, with incredible interior shots of the house. The scene where Daphne tells Warren why she left three years ago is filmed on an expansive, frozen, snow covered lake, where the pair look quite naked. The hallway where the dark deed occurs-the drunken shuffle dance-is almost tunnel dark, backlit, it appears, only by the bathroom light. Most shots involving Marguerate or Leigh are brightly lit. The Myth of Fingerprints combines beautiful cinematography, well-rounded, three dimensional characters, an intriguing story, and a believable ending. But maybe the most important aspect of this film is the fact that you won't walk away from it with that creepy just-walked-in-on-my-parents-schtupping feeling.