by Jarrod, published on July 18th, 2008|
'The Stone Angel' could have potentially been called A Tale of Two Ellens, but as this was made before Juno, Ellen Page has only a minor role, and it is left up to Ellen Burstyn to carry the whole movie, and she does, with an extraordinary performance. She plays Hagar Shipley, 90 years old and resistant to the idea of going to a nursing home. Her son Marvin (Dylan Baker) believes this is in her best interests; she passionately disagrees and runs off on a journey in which she relives past memories, especially her tumultuous marriage to Bram (Cole and Wings Hauser). Bram is a farmer with a bad reputation, and the young Hagar (Christina Horne) risks everything to be with him. Her father disowns and disinherits her.
And for what? Bram is not a good husband; Hagar is his second wife, and she spends most of the relationship wishing she had never gotten mixed up with him in the first place. Yet, they are still attracted to one another, in one of those examples of just how mysterious and vexing love can be, if love is the right word to describe their expressed feelings and emotions. Hagar has two sons with Bram, Marvin and John (Kevin Zegers); she favors John over Marvin, but for much of their childhood, she neglected both of them, and deprived them of the maternal affection they so desperately needed. She regrets this later on, when she has time to reflect upon it, and the many other mistakes she made. Ellen Page is John's girlfriend Arlene, and Hagar responds to her in much the same way her father responded to Bram.
The film is adapted from a famed Canadian novel by Margaret Laurence, and the story spans five decades, more easily and convincingly in the book than in the movie. Horne is excellent, and works well with Burstyn in creating one remarkable and fascinating character. It is difficult to connect Horne with Burstyn and they do not resemble each other physically, but they exhibit similar personality traits that allow us to accept the transformation and maturation of Hagar over time, as she becomes even more stubborn and impulsive, yet also more willing to recognize her flaws. Burstyn nails the smaller, more truthful moments, and there are plenty of those, and the dialogue acquires a reflexive and philosophical tone, and is beautifully delivered by Burstyn.
To condense a large novel into a workable screenplay is no easy task, and that is ultimately the weakness of 'The Stone Angel', writer-director Kari Skogland misses a lot of the details in between, as she jumps from young Hagar to elderly Hagar, cutting out whole portions of Hagar's life, as she must have had to given the time constraints.
In the end, this feels sort of like a Lifetime production, geared towards women, who can relate to this story more readily perhaps than men. I would argue that Burstyn is good enough to merit some attention around Oscar time, but this film will probably have such a small reception that it will be ignored by the Academy. Burstyn has, of course, won before, for Scorsese's 1974 feature Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, but she deserves at least another nomination. This is her best work since Requiem for a Dream.
Rating: 3 out of 5