DAY EIGHT November 10, 2005
Mädchen Amick Triangulates Happiness in FOUR CORNERS OF SUBURBIA
by Brent Simon
The capacity for substantive self-change, it is said, is one of the most elusive elements in the world--more rare than diamonds or gold. FOUR CORNERS OF SUBURBIA bears this out, as it unfolds over the course of a New England getaway weekend, where joshing and passive-aggressive maneuvering give way to bickering and recrimination--with all raised almost to a veritable art form.
Written and directed by Elizabeth Puccini, FOUR CORNERS OF SUBURBIA is inquisitive and digressive in a fashion that is reflective of real, examined life, but not often depicted on screen. Starring Mädchen Amick, Paul Blackthorne, Alice Evans, Alec Newman and Brad Rowe, the film casts an eye on the complex desires and perceived failings of a group of young adults--each yearning for the greener grass on the other side of the fence--as they grapple with the station and meaning in their lives and attempt to decide whether to stand pat or move on.
Amick met with Puccini over a nice lunch in Manhattan in 2003, and dissected the script, an adaptation of Puccini's own stage play. "I think Elizabeth mentioned that the play might have been more through the eyes of Rachel (Amick's character), and that she wanted to examine it more through Walt (her character's husband) in the film," recalls Amick. The diminished authoritative point-of-view made little difference to the former TWIN PEAKS star, though.
"I just thought that the writing was really quite strong," continues Amick, "and that it was a great way to examine a group of people in their 30s and what they're going through. It really takes a point of interest, and then they just keep talking about it--the discussion is never a nice, concise, five-minute scene. Elizabeth talked about wanting to examine the scientific side versus the emotional side of psychology... plus all the different writers that inspired her."
She's not kidding. While most films place a premium on the functionality of their dialogue, advancing the plot from point A to point B, FOUR CORNERS OF SUBURBIA is the rare film that dawdles--and even delights--in the careful savoring and debate of an idea and, consequently, all sorts of grey, interpersonal interstices--the emotional distance between man and woman, childhood friends on the repair, even someone we've just met.
The film's 19-day location shoot on Bailey Island, Maine, was thankfully not as rife with such weighty ponderables. "I don't know if you can even really explain it," says Amick when asked of how important the setting was. "It felt like a little New England town where us city folks had gotten away. So much of life could be passing us by--who knows what could be going on in the news and the world. You were just really kind of isolated. It was exactly what all the characters needed to be going through, because they can't get away from each other, either."
There was the chance for some fun, too. "I would hear the boys get up early in the morning and run out and jump in the freezing cold water and come screaming back into their hotel rooms," recalls Amick. "We just wanted to create an environment where everybody could bond as people, and we felt that would put a good layer underneath [the movie]." That meant less explicit rehearsals and more one-on-one and small group sessions with Puccini, where the cast hashed out their ideas and questions in advance of shooting.
For Amick, one big question in Rachel's sputtering relationship with Walt was money, which becomes a sudden point of contention between them since he's an elementary school teacher and she is to the silver spoon born. "Because they're going through a hard time in their relationship, all of a sudden everything is examined," says Amick. "It's another thing to complain about and work through, and this is a piece of ammunition that Rachel has to throw in his face. I never took her as somebody who was money-hungry, but it came down to the fact that she's made sacrifices--she says, 'This is how I grew up, why aren't you being honest with me?'"
Honesty is a lonely word, alas, and FOUR CORNERS OF SUBURBIA further exposes its token popularity--its true isolation. For fans of talky relationship roundelays, though, it's a rewarding exposé.
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