film reel image

film reel image

Saturday, April 2, 2016

8th Annual River Bend Film Festival Feature Film-The Looking Glass 2015 * * * 1/2 Stars

The Looking GlassDirector: John D. Hancock
Year: 2015
Rated NR
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Dorothy Tristan, Grace Tarnow, Elizabeth Stenholt

John D. Hancock hasn't made a film in about thirteen years. He's a director that works well with young actors. He's a director that sticks to his Midwestern roots. Lastly, he's the guy that put Robert De Niro on the map (remember 1973's Bang The Drum Slowly?). Although time has passed making Hancock the Hoosier State's version of Terrence Malick, he never misses a beat with his newest vehicle, The Looking Glass.

On April 1st of 2016, I wistfully attended a free screening of this little-known drama. I didn't perceive anything about it as I ventured into the legendary Goshen Theater (located firmly in the Maple City). While its initial running time felt a little draggy, The Looking Glass then turned into a prolonged, powerful, and profound coming-of-age pic. I was also gravitated by its blow-by-blow character study of an ailing grandmother and her suicidal (yet misunderstood) granddaughter. From its opening frame consisting of a sweeping aerial shot to its final frame (harboring a similar shot), "Glass" gives its cast ample room to squeeze in terrific performances. All of this is done to the backdrop of summertime in Northern Indiana.

Now would I classify The Looking Glass as a superior indie? Perhaps if my assumption is correct that it is independently distributed. Did it remind me of 1981's On Golden Pond but fashioned in a Middle America setting? Oh for sure. With "Glass", there's tragedy in numbers, there's plenty of references to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (hence the working title), and the proceedings ultimately further a play within a movie. My list of top picks for 2015 includes a crime drama, a crime biography, a comedy, a historical drama, and a sports drama. Why not add this one to the mix.

Shot on location in South Bend, LaPorte, Michigan City, and Three Oaks, Michigan, "Glass" is written by and stars Dorothy Tristan (John D. Hancock's real-life spouse). Tristan, a Hollywood recluse herself, hasn't acted in a motion picture since Down and Out in Beverly Hills circa 1986. No matter. Her turn as a grandmother/former movie star stricken with early Alzheimer's, is under the radar and worthy of a delayed Oscar. Added to that, her script for The Looking Glass is filled with tender moments, tough love between family members, and insight on how to succeed in the realm of stage and screen.

The story is as follows: Emotionally distraught Julie (played effectively by newcomer Grace Tarnow) is sent to live with her grandmother (Dorothy Tristan as Karen, who looks as though she could be Tarnow's actual nana). Julie's mother died at a young age and she is seemingly alienated from her father and her stepmom. Karen and Julie (at first) don't connect with their relationship stemming from distance and intense encounters. Over time, they bond with Karen reminding Julie that she is talented, can sing, and should try out for a part in a local play. The character of Julie's mom, is almost never seen in flashbacks and there is only a faint photo of her shown in a handful of scenes. Her invisible presence however, stays with you throughout "Glass" and adds to its absorbing palate. The musical score although facile, is sublime. The rural Indiana landscape here is homegrown. Watch for a twist in The Looking Glass that anyone would be hard pressed to reveal.

Not swayed by its compact exposure, I think this is truly a beautiful film. Some people in audience where I sat, cried. A lot of them definitely teared up. Shown on less than 10 screens nationwide, it's a misfortune that this thing didn't get a larger release. My rating: 3 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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