It’s a sad comment when a serious-minded film harkens back to last year’s horrible Sandra Bullock stink bomb, Premonition, but The Life Before Her Eyes does just that. Despite stellar performances from everyone in the cast, confident direction by Vadim Perelman, and beautiful cinematography, Life (in theaters now) is a long lead-up to a colossal cheat that utterly ruins all that came before it.
Evan Rachel Wood and Uma Thurman both play Diana, a high school girl who survived a horrifying school shooting and, fifteen years later, must deal with the guilt of having lived when others died. Wood and Eva Amurri (Susan Sarandon’s daughter) are wonderful as polar opposites -- the bad slutty girl and the good Christian girl -- and their friendship grounds the film for most of its length. Thurman is given the harder role of playing a shell-shocked mother trying to make it past the worst kind of anniversary. Despite having the life she always wanted, with a handsome older husband and adorable child, Diana can’t forget that she heard the school shooter say he was coming to school with a gun ... and didn’t say anything.
I was thoroughly engrossed in the story’s ruminations on the choices we make and how people change from their "young and wild" days, but only when I thought it was leading to a satisfying ending. Unfortunately, Perelman rewards your attentiveness with a slap to your face, one that starts to sting more the longer you reflect on what it does to the mystery you invested so much time in unraveling. I’m also bothered by the fact that we know what Thurman looked like at Wood’s age, and the latter actress would not have grown into the former.
Perelman’s The House of Sand and Fog was a much better film, and this one certainly looks gorgeous, but coming on the heels of the Virginia Tech and Columbine shooting anniversaries, The Life Before Her Eyes is more like The Tacky House of Smoke and Mirrors.
UPDATE: The Life Before Her Eyes is now available on DVDfrom Amazon.com.
Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.