(a film review by Timothy J. Verret)
Being that Jessica Lange is my favorite actress and being that she holds that ranking over so many other favorite actresses of mine, it is always difficult to find any fault in her performances. And I certainly can’t find not one in her performance as Beth in the film, MEN DON’T LEAVE. So, men don’t leave? Actually, they do. It happened to Beth when her husband died in an explosion, leaving her to raise two boys alone. In a steady (and sturdy) descent into depression, Beth realizes it’s actually her, a woman, who is leaving her boys and a potential male love interest. But these boys and love interest have no intentions of leaving Beth. If anything, they want to hang around as long as she will allow them. MEN DON’T LEAVE is very stylistic, all in part to the stylized direction of Paul Brickman (just watch his Cruise-charged film, RISKY BUSINESS, and you will see what I mean). And often with this type of uniqueness in filmmaking coupled with what is in essence a family drama, the pain and desperate union of a family falling apart can get lost. But that doesn’t happen here….well, not overtly so. What we are left with at the film’s conclusion is some pretty simple stuff: Family is everything! It’s not that this theme has not been done to death, because it has. It’s because it needs to be done to death so that families don’t drift away from each other no matter what. Once again, Ms. Lange’s performance is realistic and heartfelt and brilliant, as is her trademark as an actress. Joan Cusack gives a star-making turn, as does Chris O’Donnell as Beth’s oldest teenage son. Their chemistry is a hoot, and it’s Cusack’s Jody, a woman who won’t leave Beth alone, that brings Beth and this film to the perseverance in the face of grief. And the little Maddie, the younger boy/brother in the film, has the weight of the world on him until he breaks down with Beth and his older brother to say he is afraid to tell them the bad thoughts he has for fear they might not like him and leave him. That is some serious soul-searching stuff for a boy that young, but little children always seem to serve up the truth that adults are too prideful or ashamed to admit. MEN DON’T LEAVE is about one man who did but a whole bunch of other men and boys who wouldn’t and didn’t. It’s a film that does the heart good to know that all humans, men and women, will come and go, but indeed family members will stay and stick together even when they are drifting so far apart. It’s the ties that bind that bind us all in mutual memories shared and family love that never really dies, does it?