- The Washington Times - Friday, March 7, 2003

The awkwardly dubbed "The Safety of Objects" has little to do with attacking materialism but everything to do with how we cling to possessions in moments of weakness.
The enigmatic new film features four suburban families whose lives intertwine because of proximity and shared miseries.
Adapted from a collection of A.M. Homes short stories, "Objects" tills increasingly familiar ground with the sort of small nudges in character and place that make it better suited for home viewing.
Writer-director Rose Troche (1994's "Go Fish") jumps from family to family, angst to angst, with little concern early on that we are following her. Eventually, most will catch up. Miss Troche clearly delineates her characters, a chore made easier by elegant performances from Glenn Close and Patricia Clarkson.
The very still center of "Objects" is Paul Gold (Joshua Jackson), a young musician left in a comatose state by a car crash. His mother, Esther (Miss Close), insists on keeping Paul at home. She tends to the machinery sustaining his life, hoping he will miraculously wake up one day. She does all this while ignoring her husband and daughter.
Miss Clarkson's character, Annette, is a middle-aged divorcee who had an affair with Paul before the accident. She's trying to keep her family together while her selfish ex-husband tries to pry away one daughter from her. The other child suffers from a vague disability and is of no apparent interest to him.
Jim (Dermot Mulroney, his "About Schmidt" mullet hairstyle mercifully snipped) is your garden variety workaholic. He would rather dart off to his legal office than be a father to his two children, and his children need some parental supervision. Son Jake is fantasizing about a Barbie-like doll, secretly carrying on as if the two were romantically engaged.
When Jim learns he has been passed over for a work promotion, he suffers a modest meltdown. He makes up excuses for not going to work. He tries to take a greater interest in keeping his home tidy, but he resists taking a deeper interest in his children's lives.
Meanwhile, Mary Kay Place's Helen is a bored housewife obsessed with her weight and nonplussed by her husband's affections. She makes a clumsy pass at the local handyman, who later plays an eerie role in a pseudo-kidnapping and appears as lost as everyone else.
Eventually, all four story lines begin to meet. Esther signs on for a radio contest in which contestants must keep their hands placed on a new pickup truck for as long as possible to win the vehicle. Jim hears about her attempt and decides to become her coach.
Other intersections foster lighter drama and are less interesting.
Miss Troche gets only a B for her attempts to fuse several short stories into one coherent package. Watching the various players overlap isn't the organic process it should be.
The film itself takes a few creative risks. The subplot concerning Jake and his doll crush provides a few harmless giggles and is a clever twist on how an estranged boy might cope, but Jim's obsession over Esther's radio contest is less credible. We all have seen men dedicate their lives to work at the expense of their families. However, after Jim's job falters, it seems unreal that he would bury his sorrows in a relative stranger's plight. All the while, his children practically beg for his attentions, to little avail.
Most unsettling is that curious kidnapping, which begins and ends in such head-scratching fashion that it's easy to imagine the film surviving without it.
Miss Troche is much more assured orchestrating Annette's custody drama and the perils of an older woman juggling romance and parenthood.
"The Safety of Objects" takes obvious aim at the shallowness inherent in suburbia, from the beautiful homes to the picturesque settings. Yet it also celebrates the suburban social structure while refraining from outright mockery.
In one uneventful scene, Esther walks by Annette's house and notices her neighbor struggling with her lawn mower. Esther offers some simple advice and walks off. The casual encounter underscores the unspoken bond between suburban dwellers.
It's at times like that when the warmth of "The Safety of Objects" cushions the pain felt by its protagonists.

**1/2
TITLE: "The Safety of Objects"
RATING: R (Brief nudity, strong language)
CREDITS: Written and directed by Rose Troche.
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes

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