blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

The Rage in Placid Lake (2003, Tony McNamara)

Placid Lake is a guy, not a town. I’d never seen a trailer and I didn’t spend any time reading about it, just queueing it since Blockbuster has so very little, and I always assumed it was a town. Had I read about it, I would have watched it sooner, since Rose Byrne is in it and she isn’t in enough. Ben Lee (who I guess is a punk rock guy of some fame) plays Placid Lake. Lake has just graduated from high school. He’s been raised by his parents to be the uber-geek–in elementary school, his mother puts him in a dress to show his classmates (who pummel him) how close-minded they are. It gets little better for Lake as he gets older, and for the first half hour, the film layers the story in multiple flashbacks, which isn’t at all as tedious as it sounds. That first hour is light and fast, amusing the viewer into genuinely caring about the characters (Byrne plays the best friend/love interest-to-be), even if Lee isn’t as good an actor as his co-stars. His personality does some of the work and it’s not even his fault Placid Lake isn’t better.

Since it was dedicated to amusing me, I couldn’t discern the film’s quality in that first half hour, but once I could, I eased into the viewing experience. Placid Lake is a good film, it’s just not particularly heavy. Director McNamara knows both how to use a wide frame and how to keep the viewer entertained. Maybe since the main character survives a fall off a roof–making a full recovery–it becomes obvious the film’s stakes aren’t particularly high, it’s just going to be an enjoyable experience. Oddly, instead of concentrating on the love story, the film moves away, concentrating on the character’s self-image. Lake goes to work in an insurance company, welcoming the soul-sucking experience. All the self-awareness of office culture feels a little bit too much like Office Space and, well, “The Office.” It’s a wink-wink joke–Placid Lake likes work in the office–nudge, nudge. But it’s always agreeable.

This shallowness–and it’s not too shallow, the pat message about being one’s self gets shot down in a few ways–hurts a lot of the performances in the film. Since it’s called The Rage in Placid Lake, there’s never enough between Byrne and her father (played by “Spider-Man” Nicholas Hammond), but there’s also not enough in Placid’s office. He has an office manager, played by Christopher Stollery, who gives a deep portrayal as a seeming alpha male who has sold himself out… and is all too aware of it.

Whatever the film’s problems, it’s still quite good and I only wish it were more readily available, particularly since Byrne is so damn good in it.

Oh… and having a theme based on (without credit) Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” doesn’t hurt either…

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