Reviewed by Noel Murray, published on April 15, 2003|
Many people would consider Marion Bridge a typical "women's picture," because the cast is largely female and the story concerns three adult sisters coming to grips with their mother's failing health. Molly Parker plays a recovering drug addict who moves from Toronto to her hometown in Nova Scotia to help with her mom, thereby getting back in her two older siblings' good graces. It's classic weepie material. But broken down into pure plot beats, ignoring gender bias, Marion Bridge is much like a caper film. Instead of eluding elaborate security systems to swipe an emerald-encrusted scabbard, Parker has to bring her family back together while sidestepping the distrust of divorced eldest sister Rebecca Jenkins and mopey closet-case middle sister Stacy Smith. Parker schemes carefully, taking an interest in Smith's love life and relieving Jenkins of her household chores in order to turn them around and effect a familial catharsis before the closing credits. There's inherent pleasure in watching Marion Bridge's pieces snap together, but it's too bad that director Wiebke von Carolsfeld's movie adaptation of Daniel MacIvor's play doesn't have a caper film's energy. Parker, Jenkins, and Smith are good as the bickering sistersthey believably get across the idea that their relationship hasn't progressed much since adolescencebut Marion Bridge is mired in obviousness and over-explanation, which renders it practically motionless. When Parker sneaks a drink into her mother's hospital room, von Carolsfeld feels the need to show her surreptitiously filling the flask. When Jenkins and Smith question Parker's ability to stay sober, they do it with exaggerated curtness, while remaining vague on their accusations so the director can fill in the details of Parker's past when it better suits her sense of drama. Long after most in the audience will have figured out what's up with the woman Smith chats up in the church parking lot, and with the teenage girl Parker spies on, von Carolsfeld is still moving those plotlines forward by degrees, as though protecting some revelation. Instead, the story does pretty much what's expected of it, even in its twists. If von Carolsfeld had worked more surprises into her style and presentation, Marion Bridge wouldn't live down to its genre stereotype so readily.