Unless

Carol Shields’ final novel is about forty-something writer Reta Winters (Catherine Keener), her husband Tom (Matt Craven) and what happens when they learn that their eldest daughter is now homeless. They find Norah (Hannah Gross) sitting on the sidewalk of a Toronto street wrapped in a blanket with a sign that says’Goodness’. Something must have snapped because Norah does not responds to her parents and her sisters’ questions, and just stares into space or at them quizzically with a faint smile. They are unable to convince Norah to follow them or to seek help. But the novel (my research showed as I have not read it) is as much about Reta’s reflections on her writing than the fate of her daughter. Not much of that here, except a few inconsequential scenes with journalists or agents. It’s as if they belonged in another film. Shields also explores the important relationship between Reta and her mentor, a French Holocaust survivor and poet (German acting legend Hanna Schygulla). It is unfortunate that in her only scene, the character comes off as a bore. So what really happened to Norah? The moment when we are finally showed is a dud. It tries to be spectacular and meaningful, but with god awful special effects, all it manages to be is corny and “What was that?”. Although there is good acting from Keener and Martha Henry, who plays Reta’s mother-in-law, they deserve better. And so does Carol Shields.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Unless

Directed by:

Alan Gilsenan

Screenplay by:

Alan Gilsenan

Based on the novel by Carol Shields

 

Starring:

Catherine Keener

Hannah Gross

Matt Craven

Chloe Rose

Abigail Winter

Martha Henry

Hanna Schygulla

Benjamin Ayres

 

93 min.

 

Rated 14A

 

 

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