“This is not a sad story. That’s what you are thinking, isn’t it.’
Don’t be so presumptuous young lady.
thought was what I was really thinking during the opening moments of
“Louder Than Words,” as a 13-year-old girl with a Medusa-like explosion
of dark curls and a preternaturally smugger-than-thou smile rides her
bike on an impossibly sunshine-drenched day .
get used to Maria (Olivia Steele-Falconer) as she persists in narrating
this truth-based tale that would barely cut it on the Hallmark Channel.
Prepare for her to materialize in flashbacks even after she tragically
expires from a rare case of bat rabies. She is like an irksome version of Clarence the angel from “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Except, in this
case, it is more like it’s a wonderful death. One that inspires her
high-strung New England family, whose torturous taste in taupe-heavy
décor practically shouts dysfunction, to build what I am sure is a
terrific children’s hospital in Maria’s memory.
that “Louder Than Words”–they are taking action, get it?–much
cares about allowing us to share in the joy of sick kids and their loved
ones benefiting from this state-of-the-art pediatric facility in
Valhalla, N.Y. The end results are relegated to a smattering of sketches
and snapshots along with assorted captions over the end credits.
Instead of closure, we are urged to instead focus on the over-privileged
Fareri family, who–at least in this film’s incarnation–makes the
distraught upper-class clan in “Ordinary People” seem like the Waltons.
make one thing clear right here. I am not normally a cynic and I abhor
the impersonal, drab and cramped confines of many health-care facilities
as much as anyone. And that the tragic loss of a child bettered the
world in some way is fine with me. But instead of celebrating that
accomplishment, “Louder Than Words” goes out of its way, and almost
takes pride in, eschewing actual heartfelt emotions–so much so that,
by the end, it is hard to even care. Shots of pretty autumnal leaves,
sometimes dripping with tear-like raindrops, and other fancy camera
tricks do little to fill in the blanks.
other words, this is no “Lorenzo’s Oil,” a superior reality-based drama
from 1992 about another family who challenged the accepted norms of the
we have David Duchovny, one of the least-emotive actors ever, typecast
as John Fareri, a man who builds a wall around his thoughts and
feelings. This commercial developer who revels in always getting his way
(there is a snide comment at one point about how he likes to steamroll
over the concerns of environmentalists) is an enigma to his indulgent
business-partner and decorator wife, Brenda (Hope Davis, a fine actress
saddled with a hopeless role), as well as to his two college-age
daughters and only son, who happen to be triplets.
not to Maria, for she is the self-declared glue who holds them all
together and a child of wonder who illuminates her father’s universe. He
willingly reveals to his favorite child the very principle that guides
his life and work: “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.”
Translation: “I will do whatever I want and apologize later.“ Nice
guy, that John.
then. By the time a half-hour or so ticks by, our heroine–who, while
annoyingly precocious, has more of a pulse than any of the other
performers onscreen–has already met her demise. But not before, in a
series of disjointed scenes, she shows off her outgoing personality by
singing a little ditty with her pals, confessing she has a crush on a
boy and joking around with her father, who barely ever acknowledges
his other offspring, while fishing together on a two-person camping
trip. The very outing, apparently, that led to her being exposed to the
grief-stricken, the rest of the family drifts farther apart. Dad
becomes more of a non-presence than ever while Mom goes on mad cleaning
sprees. The moody daughter runs off to Seattle with her boyfriend. And,
at a Boston college, the scholarly daughter finds refuge in her school
work while her brother skips his classes and mopes. At least the
siblings share one bond: chain-smoking.
then John decides to flip through Maria’s journal while in her shrine
of a bedroom. He spots the mention of an English class assignment asking
her to write about her wish. Although being a star or a famous
scientist are her initial thoughts, she settles on: “I wish for the
health and well-being of all the children of the world.”
a zombie-esque Duchovny isn’t busy staring off into space, his John is
making haphazard attempts to allow Maria’s dream to come true by coming
up with a hospital plan.
brings in a specialist (Timothy Hutton, who at least provides a smile
or two) but fails to include or even inform his wife of his efforts.
Eventually, plates are smashed, voices are raised and the healing
begins. As for the project, after several hurdles such as recruiting
members of their well-off community as donors, John and Brenda succeed
with what seems like an average amount of handwringing to make the
proposal a reality–despite the fact it actually took nine years to
is harder to achieve than building a hospital? Producing a realistic movie
about coping with grief by helping others–at least for the filmmakers
behind “Louder Than Words.”