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» NY Film Critics Online Review - Mouth to Mouth

Reviewed by Harvey S. Karten, published on April, 20, 2006 11:00 AM

Artistic License Films
Grade: B
Directed by: Alison Murray
Written by: Alison Murray
Cast: Eric Thal, Ellen Page, Natasha Wightman, August Diehl,
Maxwell McCabe-Lokos, Beatrice Brown, Diana Greenwood,
Jefferson Guzman
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 4/19/06
Opens: May 19, 2006

It’s great to be young. Or is it? In one sense you have less freedom. You’re under the thumb of your parents, who could ground you from the mall or, horror upon horror, cut off your TV. In another sense, you are not bogged down by a 9-5 job, and, given the nature of high schools these days, you may have 20 minutes of homework nightly–which you don’t bother doing. In a worst-case scenario, you’d don’t fit in anywhere, and for teens, that’s a fate worse than losing your cellphone.

Typical teen freedom is not enough for 14-year-old Sherry (Ellen Page), who is not fond of her bourgeois single mom, Rose (Natasha Wightman). She’s a teenager and thereby interested in experimenting with various forms of life, even the human kind. When in Europe she tentatively joins a group known as SPARK (Street People Armed with Radical Knowledge), a presumably anarchist society but one actually under the thumb of Harry (Eric Thal). Like the Black Panthers, who fed kids in the ‘hood some decades back and like Hamas, which feeds some Palestinians in Gaza, the group has some good intentions. The group’s aim is to save street people; to get them off drugs, sometimes by giving out well-measured doses of methadone. But as we see, those well-meaning motives are more than canceled out by dangerous acts and downright nefarious doings.

“Mouth to Mouth” stars Ellen Page, an upcoming 18-year-old from Nova Scotia who delivered an Oscar-worthy performance in David Slade’s “Hard Candy.” In that pic about a perv who preys on underage nymphets by acting nerdy computer-cum-photographer shtick but who is given to serial statutory rape and possibly murder, Page is a manipulative, thoroughly controlling borderline psycho herself. In full control when capturing the photographer in that story, she is vulnerable almost throughout “Mouth to Mouth,” redeeming herself toward the conclusion of the drama. Whatever one may think of the movie–which is haphazard a good deal of the time and seemingly improvised at spots–the movie is worth seeing for Page’s performance alone.

When Sherry gets into a hippie-ish van in Berlin headed for Portugal through France and Spain, she finds SPARK’s modus vivendi hard to take. They are expected by muscular leader Harry to be thoroughly group-oriented: to do nothing “selfish,” which is to say, looking out for numero uno. Even the pack that Sherry uses for cosmetics is community property. While she is alarmed by the accidental death of one young woman in the group, who falls into a dumpster and is impaled by a nail board, her disgust for her family back home keeps her going. She takes a liking to one cadaverous fellow, Mad Ax (Maxwell McCabe Lokos) and is encouraged by Nancy (Beatrice Brown), to give up her virginity to Harry. She doesn’t like having her hair shaved (one side only because half the group members voted to let her keep her locks), but is more discouraged when her mother turns up to take her away from all this. Her mom is several steps ahead of her, as Sherry notes with increasing apprehension in a twist that some in the audience will predict.

“Mouth to Mouth” is occasionally riveting, but like the people in SPARK, that which is all to the good becomes slapdash. Writer-director Allison Murray seems out to show the dangers of cults like that of Jim Jones in Jonestown in northern Guyana, where in 1978 a charismatic leader pushed 918 people into drinking poisoned Kool Aid. By extension, Murray may be taking aim at a host of governments with extremist views, whether on the left or on the right–a dystopic vision made popular by George Orwell in his short but incisive novel “Animal Farm.” This is the sort of picture that could have viewers screaming for Ayn Rand’s novel, “Atlas Shrugged,” wherein the most important word in the English language is “I.”

Source: community.compuserve.com

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