- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2008

“The Life Before Her Eyes” could have been a must-see movie.

It has a moving, of-the-moment premise. It stars one of the most popular actresses of her generation (Uma Thurman) and a couple of promising up-and-comers. It’s based on a novel by a well-regarded poet and novelist (Laura Kasischke).

It’s too bad, then, that it’s not. The problem isn’t with the premise, the actresses or even the sometimes atmospheric quality of its dialogue. It’s that director Vadim Perelman (“House of Sand and Fog”) and first-time screenwriter Emil Stern want to make their film so relevant they stuff it with more “big issues” than a whole season of after-school specials.

Miss Thurman stars as Diana, a beautiful woman with a loving husband and precocious daughter whose life, nonetheless, seems to be falling apart. In a few days, her old high school marks the 15th anniversary of a school shooting that left many of her classmates dead.


Diana seems wracked with survivor’s guilt. Through flashbacks, we see the weeks leading up to that fateful day as Diana and her best friend experience the highs and lows of teenage life before they’re confronted, just the two of them, in the school restroom by the boy who already has gunned down students and teachers. He’ll shoot just one of them, he says. They have to decide which one.

The 17-year-old Diana (Evan Rachel Wood) and Maureen (Eva Amurri) couldn’t be more different. Diana has an older lover and struggles with being labeled a “slut,” while Maureen happily attends church weekly with her Pentecostal family. What they have in common is a great love for each other that’s tested on the day of the ordeal.

“The Life Before Her Eyes” has many scenes of great beauty. One, with the older Diana reading William Blake’s “Nurse’s Song” to comfort her daughter — and intercut with images of students filing into school the day of the shooting — is heartbreaking. Miss Thurman is convincing as a haunted woman who can’t let go of the past, but it’s the younger actresses who really grip the viewer. Miss Amurri, the daughter of actress Susan Sarandon, has a promising career ahead of her. Miss Wood, who got to strut her stuff in last year’s Beatles musical “Across the Universe,” is simply mesmerizing as a wild child who grows up to have one herself.

Alas, the things that are most interesting in the film get short shrift in favor of melodrama. It turns out that Diana had heard the shooter the day before declare his intention to kill but had laughed it off as a joke. That point is never addressed in her later life. However, the issues addressed are all too plentiful: teen abortion, adult infidelity, education under nuns. There’s even a car crash.

By the time the viewer finally finds out exactly what happened in that school bathroom, the emotional resonance it could have had has been mostly squandered.

**1/2

TITLE: “The Life Before Her Eyes”

RATING: R (Violent and disturbing content, language and brief drug use)

CREDITS: Directed by Vadim Perelman. Written by Emil Stern based on the novel by Laura Kasischke.

RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes

WEB SITE: www.lifebeforehereyes.com

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