HOLLYWOOD—A big trend in all forms of fiction now a days is the attempt by artists to capture the universal, normal hardships of the average person in a developed nation. “Five Night In Maine” is one such film. It has its moments, in no small part thanks to leading man David Oyelowo, but it can’t compete with the top films of its type.
The story centers around a man named Sherwin (David Oyelowo) who loses his beloved wife Fiona (Hani Furstenberg) in a car crash. Devastated by this tragedy, Sherwin opts to visit his cancer stricken mother-in-law Lucinda (Dianne Wiest) in Maine at the urging of her caring nurse Ann (Rosie Perez).
To reiterate this is a movie about the hardships of average people; grief, long term illness, childhood miseries, etc. Watching it, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the fantastic 2013 film “August: Osage County.” The thing is that “Five Nights In Maine” falls short of “August: Osage County” in almost every way.
It has its points. Chief among them is Oyelowo’s performance. He’s authentic and raw in his grieving, and his initial panic at learning of his wife’s death was very powerful. Diane Wiest and Oyelowo have some notable, tense scenes across the dinner table. She was good, but not quite as good as him. It didn’t help that at the end of the movie she has a moment where she cries out which come across as forced. In fact, it was reminiscent of Angelina Jolie Pitt’s melodramatic “I’m barren” cries in the disastrous 2015 drama “By The Sea.”
You really do have to give it to Oyelowo. This wasn’t an easy role. He had to simultaneously have enough emotion to make his pain palpable, but not hurt his believability by overacting or being melodramatic. The way in which he breaks down, the pain he shows in his eyes and on his face, the way he drinks to cope, he succeeds admirably.
Unfortunately, it’s not enough to save the movie. I’m not a fan of either the music or the sound. It was at times kind of screechy. I get that it was trying to symbolize the descent into darkness one feels after a great loss, but it matched neither the tone or scenery.
Where it really fails to live up to something like “August: Osage County” is in the pacing. In the aforementioned movie, we see a constant raising of stakes. We get to know the characters better and the plot thickens with every scene. In this film, this is not so. It is slow, and plot points and character development come in sporadically capped off by a big, unnecessary, overly dramatic and banal info dump at the end.
The whole movie is Sherwin. All the characters around him, even Lucinda, are secondary. In a great ensemble drama like “August: Osage County,” the actors all bring out the best in each other. Every performance, every character, is a spectacular part of a greater universe orbiting around a central theme. This allows the film to explore a multitude of themes and angles. Here we are only shown what we can see through Sherwin, and to a limited extent Lucinda. It prevents the cast from having that great dynamic. I guess it could have been done well, but here I feel it prevents the movie being anything other than obvious.
While we’re on obvious things, I have to note that I wasn’t a fan of the symbolism. The constant use of water is unoriginal in the extreme. We get it, he’s trying to cleanse himself of his pain, renew, and move on. We are treated to rain, a pool, a lake, and the ocean to drive the point home. Like I said, banal.
Again we must speak of even more missed opportunities. The film fails to adequately address the racial issues involved in Sherwin and Fiona’s interracial marriage. It’s brought up only briefly in a tense exchange between Sherwin and Lucinda, but I don’t think it was enough. It left me with a lot of questions about how Lucinda and her daughter’s relationship could have been damaged by any racism on her part. If this was the case, what’s the story with her having a person of color as a nurse? Does she act racistly towards her? How big a factor was any racism on her part in her life? Did she say what she said just to manipulate Sherwin? This leaves more questions than answers in the worst possible way.
It wanted to be an artwork in the tradition of Tracy Letts, Tennessee Williams, or maybe even Raymond Carver. Instead, it ended up being the boring, standard drama you’ve read or seen a million times.