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March 10 - 17, 2000

[Movie Reviews]

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by Peter Keough

The opening scene might hold the key to watching Orphans, British actor Peter Mullan's bewildering, ludicrous, but never dull debut feature. Four Glasgow siblings -- cynical Michael (Douglas Henshall), sanctimonious Thomas (Gary Lewis), callow college boy John (Stephen McCole), and sickly Sheila -- gather somberly around their mother's open coffin. Sheila asks to give mom a kiss, and Michael and Robert lift her out of her wheelchair, carry her over to the bier as if she were Alan Keyes in a mosh pit, and shove her face into mom's.

True, all grief and misfortune has its wacky side, but Mullan seems determined to take the bathos of this portrait of grief and family conflict to the outskirts of Twin Peaks. Perhaps he means to parody the relentless melodramas of his fellow thespians Gary Oldman and Tim Roth, whose Nil by Mouth and The War Zone blur the line between tragedy and farce. How else account for the escalating absurdity of events, as a teary song leads to a fight, a stabbing, a death vendetta, and, somehow, a trio of drunks using a barman's ass as a dart board? When it rains in this movie, it not only pours, but the wind blows the roof off the church. Tone, though, remains a problem -- when Thomas says, "She's not heavy, she's my mother," are we supposed to laugh?

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