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Struggling to survive a suicide

February 18, 2005|Kevin Thomas;Kevin Crust

In "Imaginary Heroes," writer-director Dan Harris covers a year in the life of a family in the aftermath of their older son's suicide, which has left his mother, Sandy (Sigourney Weaver), and especially his father, Ben (Jeff Daniels), devastated in credible but radically different ways. The focal point of the film, however, is the younger son, Tim (Emile Hirsch), for whom the tragedy triggers a rocky but illuminating coming of age.

It would have been nice if Harris, who casts a sardonic yet compassionate eye on the Travis family, had set his sights a little higher than the typical chronicle of a dysfunctional suburban family. He knows how to create complex, believable characters and how to inspire his talented actors to superior performances -- Weaver in fact is at her edgy, forthright best -- and Harris has a sure sense of structure that reveals itself in his ability to pull off a series of adroitly placed surprises.

To Harris' credit, nothing about the key people is the least bit glib. Indeed, they and their issues are at times excruciatingly real. Yet it would have been a stronger film had Harris cast a fresher, more revealing eye on the privileged world in which they live.

-- Kevin Thomas

"Imaginary Heroes," rated R for substance abuse, sexual content, language and some violence. Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes. At selected theaters.


On the rebound in a new stage of life

A flimsy comedy thoroughly intoxicated with the magic of theater, "Bigger Than the Sky" stars Marcus Thomas as a dullard of a graphic designer who tries to live a little by joining a Portland, Ore., community theater production of "Cyrano de Bergerac." Painfully well-intentioned, the film is undone by a lead character who undermines any goodwill earned by the performances of John Corbett, Amy Smart, Clare Higgins, Allan Corduner, Patty Duke and Sean Astin.

Peter Rooker (Thomas), a mopey young man having trouble bouncing back from being dumped by his bored girlfriend, decides to audition on a whim and implausibly lands the lead. Thomas plays the part with such wincing sincerity that it's hard to imagine anyone casting him as anything other than tech support. Peter is supposed to be an awful actor, but every aspect of the character is rendered so on-the-nose -- excuse the pun -- as to strain credibility.

This heartfelt valentine to the stage, written by Rodney Vaccaro and directed by Al Corley (who starred in TV's "Dynasty"), leaves no cliche unturned. If it has anything to recommend, it is the loving portrayal of the camaraderie of those who participate in art for art's sake who, to quote Cyrano, "work without one thought of gain or fame."

-- Kevin Crust

"Bigger Than the Sky," rated PG-13 for some language and sexual references. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. At Loews Cineplex Beverly Center 13, 8522 Beverly Blvd., (310) 652-7760; and Laemmle's Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 981-9811.

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