Thursday, January 17, 2008

'The Safety of Objects' Reviews

Here are the reviews of 'The Safety of Objects', Kristen's first role. :)

Please keep in mind that reviews can contain spoilers, lots of spoilers, and that negative reviews can be interesting to read.
If you have more reviews, feel free to email me. :)


•• eFilm Critic, Chris Parry: Rating 3/4
The Safety of Obejcts, when it was premiered in 2001, was often compared to American Beauty as a treatise on suburban malcontent and the destruction of the American family, and the film suffered no shortage of dismissive reviews as a result. But in the light of hindsight, with American Beauty now only a distant memory and with so many of Safety of Objects' stars now household names, it becomes clear that this was a film very much underserved, underseen and underrated by its audience. Rose Troche, who came to the fore directing Go Fish and Bedrooms and Hallways, manages a deft multi-card trick in managing to keep all of these character, all of these stories, and all of this angst from flowing over into sacharine territory, while sneaking up on the audience to deliver a sledgehammer message - that everything we have and everything we want is really just a means for us to cover our own deficiencies and sorrow; cowering among the safety of objects, if you will. Geez, this is starting to sound like a literary review; let's just say the flick is pretty damn good, okay?

What makes this film all the more impressive an outing (at least impressive enough for the director to move on to helming Six Feet Under for HBO) is that it was adapted from a serious of short stories by A.M. Homes. To adapt a single story to any level of competency is generally impressive enough, but to adapt a mutlitude and turn them into one ensemble piece with a united meaning, and to do it effectively, is nothing short of brilliant. But the best of cinematic intentions are often turned to crap when another film comes along and sweeps the field at Oscar time - a film with similar themes and a big audience. Out come the cries of 'imitator', allowing people who should 'look deeper' to dismiss a great piece of work without putting too much thought into it.

The Safety of Objects, viewed on its own merits, is a fine film, performed completely well, directed with style and grace, written with a deft touch and released like a redheaded stepchild on his 18th birthday. "Here's ten screens, don't come back."

That this low budget indie with a cast including Glen Close, Dermot Mulroney, Patricia Clarkson, Joshua Jackson (in the prime of his Dawson's Creek fame), Jessica Campbell (just off her Election success), and Tim Olyphant (just after breaking out with Go) could be so long ignored is incredible, but that it was, being dumped to the back shelves by MGM until they just couldn't hold on to it anymore and threw it on a handful of screens where it could at least prepare for a minor video payday. The Safety of Objects was made in 2000, shown once in 2001, then killed for two years where it did a few festivals, gathered dust, waited for the American Beuaty buzz to die, and eventually, for all intents and purposes, ceased to exist on the Hollywood landscape. If you saw it in theaters in 2003, you were one of the lucky few, but I'm standing here right now telling you with a straight face - go rent this movie.

The situation is complex - four neighboring families exist side by side, without a whole lot of mixing, each member entrenched in their own tragic tale of woe. Jim (Mulroney) is a lawyer just passed over for promotion, Susan (Moira Kelly) is his long suffering wife unaware that he just quit and baffled as to why he is spending his day at the mall trying to help Ester (Close) win a 'hands on a hardbody' contest to win a truck. Ester has a dying child at home (Joshua Jackson), the result of a car accident a few years prior that has sent her daughter (Campbell) into a consumerist tailspin. But what is the dying son's connection to their neighbor (Clarkson) who is struggling to keep a hold of her bizarro children in a divorce case, even as her son engages in a love affair with a Barbie Doll?

It goes on, but seriously, to describe all the detail is to miss the bigegr picture - that in these people, somewhere, in someone, lies you. With such a vast array of character types and backgrounds, just about any thinking audience member that observes this street in any clear-minded way will see themselves, and that's Rose Troche's objective. As they each descend further into the worlds they have created for themselves, they each lose sight of what is really important, until everything comes to a screeching collision.

Loved it. Loved it as parts, loved it as a whole. You simply don't see many films that have their shit together as well as this one does, and though it takes a while to catch the ride, this is a ride well worth catching. You go rent now.

•• TotalFilm: The Safety Of Objects may not have "multiplex hit" stamped all over it, but it's a well-plotted, moving drama that proves what we've all hoped: everyone else's families are just as odd as our own.

•• USA Today, Claudia Puig: Emotionally shaken suburbanites find easy comfort and false hope in everyday things: a guitar, a doll, a new car, even life-sustaining medical equipment.

The interwoven stories are haunting, but also darkly funny. Standout performances belong to Close, Clarkson and Mulroney, who convey the aching tragedy of their lives with dignity. Troche wisely avoids any melodramatic touches. And, unlike another cinematic chronicler of suburbia, Todd Solondz (Happiness), Troche avoids condescending to her cast of characters. Objects is a deftly made and poignant character study that deals with life's heartaches and its tender mercies.

•• Variety, Eddie Cockrell: The seemingly unrelated lives of four suburban families intertwine with powerful consequences in “The Safety of Objects,” director Rose Troche’s masterful third feature. Though pitched squarely in the key of “Short Cuts,” “The Ice Storm,” “Happiness” and “American Beauty,” Troche’s unification and reworking of a handful of A.M. Homes’ short stories has something those films very pointedly lack: a genuine and tangible fondness and respect for the characters and their eccentricities. Auds grateful for a refreshing lack of cynicism and irony in their bigscreen entertainment should embrace pic’s message of fumbling dignity in the face of emotional and sexual confusion, suggesting strong theatrical biz and enduring popularity in all ancillary markets.

Most fantastic and outrageous plot thread finds Jim’s young son Jake (Alex House) becoming enamored with his sister’s iconic doll Tani; to her credit, Troche never allows these sequences to become smug or off-color. At first blush the title hints at an ironic attachment to material goods, but by the final crane shot of a new family being welcomed at a neighborhood barbecue it’s clear that Troche sees the complex organism that is the neighborhood as its own support system, often dysfunctional but anchored by the tangible things that give it form and meaning.

Tech credits are tops across the board, led by the intuitive widescreen compositions of d.p. Enrique Chediak and Andrea Stanley’s production design, which is a miracle of suburban verisimilitude. The original alt-rock tunes by trio known as Emboznik lend film a musical street cred while shrewdly commenting on proceedings. Tani’s breathy voice is provided by Guinevere Turner, co-scribe of Mary Harron’s “American Psycho” and star of Troche’s 1994 bow “Go Fish.”

•• Empire, Jo Berry: Rating 4/5
Beautifuly-played and heartbreakingly perceptive about the nature of relationships in average America.

•• CinemaBlend, Michael Brody: The Safety of Objects is about finding hope and purpose in that which can not possibly offer any. Looking at an old photograph for a sign of meaning (as in One Hour Photo) or a decrepit house as a way of redemption (as in Life as a House) were what brought the main characters back to life. From the behavior of these tormented souls, we learn that just about any object can bring a person back to life, and keep them alive momentarily. But for how long, and at what cost?

The film is not about people drifting toward their possessions, eventually losing the battle against being owned by what they own. From the beginning, it is obvious that these people have already given in, that the battle has already been lost. We see the characters wounded by the very knowledge of it. They discover that they will not achieve happiness if they continue to live this way. The film is about letting go of things that we know keep us content in some way but deep down now weaken us, detracting us from the importance of our lives. The Safety of Objects is a vivid tableau that shows us the simplicity and quiet beauty of suburbia. But we are forced to see the broken shutters and chipped paint.

•• The New York Times, A. O. Scott: The four families who populate ''The Safety of Objects,'' a new film by Rose Troche, live in pleasant houses bunched together on a clean and breezy patch of suburban land. Their lives are a somber and lurid tapestry of dysfunction whose dominant hues are guilt, frustration and sexual perversity, which are, after all, what people move to the suburbs for in the first place.

Not really, of course. But the idea that the split-levels and cul-de-sacs of American suburbia are breeding grounds of pathology has become, in the decades since World War II, a touchstone of American fiction and cinema, a convention that flourishes independent of whatever is really going on behind the shrubbery and the vinyl siding. Happily, ''The Safety of Objects,'' adapted by Ms. Troche from a book of stories by A. M. Homes, declines to offer smug, warmed-over sociological insights in the manner of Sam Mendes's florid and overrated ''American Beauty.''

The miseries that the inhabitants of this unnamed community find themselves immersed in, and inflict upon each other, are less a matter of social milieu than of metaphysics. Ms. Homes's despondent spouses and kinky children are case studies in fallen humanity, and Ms. Troche, weaving them together, emphasizes the stringent fatalism that animates the writer's harsh, deadpan prose. The movie is unsettling because it refuses to view its characters from a reassuring, judgmental distance. What they do is often inexplicable, grotesque or absurd, and they are, more often than not, estranged from their own feelings, but sympathy for them sprouts around the edges of their world like a persistent weed.

Ms. Homes's book is a collection of jagged shards, which Ms. Troche has ingeniously bound together into a coherent whole. Her movie owes an obvious debt to ''Short Cuts,'' in which Robert Altman fused the bleak particularity of Raymond Carver's stories into a panoramic tableau of marital and generational disconnection. Ms. Troche's canvas is smaller, and her movie sometimes feels a little too crowded and burdened with incident. When you stop to think about it, these divorces, kidnappings, infidelities and sundry mental disorders, all occurring within a few feet of one another, heard over hedges and glimpsed through windows, should add up to a dour, overwrought soap opera. But Ms. Troche paces the movie with enough artfulness to keep such objections at bay, and the cast treads lightly even through the swampiest emotional terrain.

Each family, though, is unhappy in its own creepy way. Jim Train (Dermot Mulroney) is an ambitious lawyer who cracks up after he is passed over for a partnership. In search of a new purpose, he gravitates toward Esther, who has entered an endurance contest to win an S.U.V. for Julie. Meanwhile, Jim's young son (Alex House) pursues a passionate affair with one of his sister's dolls, and one of his playmates, a tomboy named Sam (Kristen Stewart), is abducted by a disturbed young landscaper (Timothy Olyphant). Sam's mother, who had been Paul's lover, struggles to hold on to her dignity and her children after the breakup of her family.

There is more, but to enumerate all the subplots might create the misleading impression of a misshapen, melodramatic movie and might also break the unnerving spell that Ms. Troche casts. Her touch is not always sure: the delicacy of certain scenes is spoiled by intrusive music, and the strain of editing together so many different narratives is sometimes apparent. But with the help of an ensemble that is nearly flawless, she assembles the damaged human elements of Ms. Homes's world with patience and precision, and more often than not chooses dry understatement over easy satire or obvious sentiment.

•• Salon, Laura Miller: It’s easy to worry about the fate of a lovely film like Rose Troche’s “The Safety of Objects.” It may be too subtle for mass audiences who are used to being led through the emotional points of a movie like passengers gliding in those little boats past the animated dioramas at Disneyland. And it could be too generous and tender in its view of suburban life to please people who relish the satires of Sam Mendes and Todd Solondz.

As an ensemble piece, “The Safety of Objects” doesn’t make a platform for big performances the way indie hits tend to. All the acting in it is flawless, an overflowing handful of polished jewels, but this isn’t the story of one person, or a couple, or even of a family. Troche (best known for the 1994 lesbian romance “Go Fish”) has made a movie about a neighborhood and the alchemical means by which the residents of a block of houses become something more than just a bunch of people who live next door to each other.

You have to pay attention to “The Safety of Objects.” The film isn’t cryptic, but it doesn’t spell out everything in neon, and it’s the tiny, wordless, fleeting moments that tell the most — Jim’s glazed panic at the thought of intervening in his kids’ fight, Esther opening a big canister of Vaseline to smooth it on Paul’s lips. We hear people discuss matters that have yet to be explained to us: Esther seems to be preparing to leave home for a few days and people keep telling her, “You don’t have to do this.” There are flashbacks of Paul playing guitar in a band in a bar where later we see Annette offering to buy a young man a beer in the middle of the day. Some of these people are not what they at first appear to be.

Although most of its characters are haunted — or at least spooked — “The Safety of Objects” isn’t glum; even the saddest of the stories woven into its web has a jaunty humor, the product, surely, of Troche’s intimate, unwavering attention to the little world she’s made.

In the movie’s strangest subplot, Jim’s son, Jake, conducts an affair with his sister’s Barbie doll in which he gets to enact in advance all of the banalities of contemporary courtship. “You think I’m fat,” the doll whines when he’s suddenly unable to do, well, whatever it is he usually does with her. (He’s always furtively closing his door so that no one spots the naked doll sitting up in his bed with the sheet covering her breasts. At one point she even grows pubic hair.) Meanwhile, Annette’s ex complains that his children wouldn’t be mad at him for not seeing them for four months if Annette weren’t “making them aware of time … Kids have no sense of time, Annette!” His new fiancée discreetly asks when she can send movers over to “pick up some of the bigger pieces, like the armoire.”

“The Safety of Objects” is adapted from A.M. Homes’ short-story collection of the same title, but Troche has completely transformed the book. Homes’ cool, edgy fiction subscribes to the customary notion of the suburbs as a realm of anomie, boredom and selfishness. Troche’s vision is more like John Cheever’s — there’s alienation here, but also an untapped wealth of meaning and even magic. (A pretty moment in which Sam, Sally and Jake get into a swimming pool at night, carrying flashlights sealed in Ziploc bags, is pure Cheever.) Troche has taken the characters from Homes’ entirely separate stories and given them parts in each other’s lives, creating connection where in the book there’s only free-floating detachment. The bleaker aspect of Homes’ fiction elides into something more hopeful.

There are times during the film when Troche inserts a lightning-fast montage, cutting so quickly among all the different characters that you barely have a chance to register the images and how they echo each other: a hand flips up a light switch, someone’s eyes open, somebody drops something, someone else somewhere else turns, startled. It’s not just that these people’s lives are intertwined by links of love, friendship, loss and longing; in some way, they are all part of a single organism without realizing it, just as they all have a tendency to look up at Paul’s lighted window during idle moments. “I can see him from my room,” a character says. “We all can,” another replies. Their lives have all been arrested by the accident that put him permanently to sleep. That’s the tragedy of what they share, but also, if they only noticed, the beauty of it, too.

•• Entertain Your Brain, Shawn McKenzie: Rating 3/4
The first thing you will notice about this movie is that it takes a while to figure out who is a member of whose family. The first ten to twenty minutes is littered with very fast cuts alternating between the four families. I think this is to subliminally suggest that the actions of each family affect each other, but you don’t quite pick up on that until later after you figure out who the characters are. Once you do make those distinctions, the second thing you realize is that it is very long. This movie is one that you will have to give some patience.

With those few complaints said, let me get to what works in this movie. First, I found out that this movie is based on a collection of short stories written by A.M. Homes called The Safety of Objects. The essential theme of all the stories (I’m guessing...I haven’t read it) is that we find security in objects, like a new car or a plastic doll. Troche, who also wrote the screenplay, was able to weave the individual stories into one story with skill. The second thing is the acting. Everyone involved in this movie did a great job, especially the women. The men in this movie didn’t have as much to do, but it wasn’t focused on them (except Mulroney and Olyphant), and they were great when they were called up. The acting is the biggest improvement over Go Fish.

Some people might be burned out on suburban dramas since American Beauty, but I personally like them if they are unique. The Safety of Objects is a little cluttered and lengthy, but if you have patience, you might enjoy the film.

•• Roger Ebert: Rating 2/4
ide by side on a shady suburban street, in houses like temples to domestic gods, three families marinate in misery. They know one another, but what they don't realize is how their lives are secretly entangled. We're intended to pity them, although their troubles are so densely plotted they skirt the edge of irony; this is a literate soap opera in which beautiful people have expensive problems and we wouldn't mind letting them inherit some undistinguished problems of our own.

To be sure, one of the characters has a problem we don't envy. That would be Paul Gold (Joshua Jackson), a bright and handsome teenager who has been in a coma since an accident. Before that he'd been having an affair with the woman next door, Annette Jennings (Patricia Clarkson), so there were consolations in his brief conscious existence.

Now his mother Esther (Glenn Close), watches over him, reads to him, talks to him, trusts he will return to consciousness. His father Howard (Robert Klein) doesn't participate in this process, having written off his heir as a bad investment, but listen to how Esther talks to Howard: "You never even put your eyes on him. How do you think that makes him feel?" The dialogue gets a laugh from the heartless audience, but is it intended as funny, thoughtless, ironic, tender, or what? The movie doesn't give us much help in answering that question In a different kind of movie, we would be deeply touched by the mother's bedside vigil. In a very different kind of movie, like Pedro Almodovar's "Talk to Her," which is about two men at the bedsides of the two comatose women they love, we would key in to the weird-sad tone that somehow rises above irony into a kind of sincere melodramatic excess. But here--well, we know the Glenn Close character is sincere, but we can't tell what the film thinks about her, and we suspect it may be feeling a little more superior to her than it has a right to.

Written and directed by Rose Troche, based on stories by A. M. Homes, "The Safety of Objects" hammers more nails into the undead corpse of the suburban dream. Movies about the Dread Suburbs are so frightening that we wonder why everyone doesn't flee them, like the crowds in the foreground of Japanese monster movies.

"The Safety of Objects" travels its emotional wastelands in a bittersweet, elegiac mood. We meet a lawyer named Jim Train (Dermot Mulroney), who is passed over for partnership at his law firm, walks out in a rage, and lacks the nerve to tell his wife Susan (Moira Kelly). Neither one of them knows their young son Jake (Alex House) is conducting an affair--yes, an actual courtship--with a Barbie doll.

Next door is Helen (Mary Kay Place), who, if she is really going to spend the rest of her life picking up stray men for quick sex, should develop more of a flair. She comes across as desperate, although there's a nice scene where she calls the bluff of a jerk who succeeds in picking her up--and is left with the task of explaining why, if he really expected to bring someone home, his house is such a pigpen.

Let's see who else lives on the street. Annette, the Clarkson character, makes an unmistakable pitch to a handyman, who gets the message, rejects it, but politely thanks her for the offer. Annette is pathetic about men: She forgives her ex-husband anything, even when he skips his alimony payments, and lets a child get away with calling her a loser because she can't afford summer camp.

What comes across is that all of these people are desperately unhappy, are finding no human consolation or contact at home, are fleeing to the arms of strangers, dolls or the comatose, and place their trust, if the title is to be believed, in the safety of objects. I don't think that means objects will protect them. I think it means they can't hurt them.

Strewn here somewhere are the elements of an effective version of this story--an "Ice Storm" or "American Beauty," even a "My New Gun." But Troche's tone is so relentlessly, depressingly monotonous that the characters seem trapped in a narrow emotional range. They live out their miserable lives in one lachrymose sequence after another, and for us there is no relief. "The Safety of Objects" is like a hike through the swamp of despond, with ennui sticking to our shoes.

•• Entertainment Weekly, Lisa Schwarzbaum: Rating B-
The same vividness of character that makes novels and short stories such attractive properties for moviemakers is often the undoing of their movies: What we accept in our mind's eye as believable eccentricity on the page can look distractingly whimsical on screen. Director Rose Troche (''Go Fish'') blends several short stories by contemporary domestic chronicler A.M. Homes into The Safety of Objects, a group portrait of four suburban families whose woes cross paths.

Although the effort is high-minded and fastidious, each household's longings and itches feel arbitrarily grandiose -- and sometimes intrusively kooky -- when blown up and in the flesh. But the disciplined performances play against schmaltz, and the casting is inspired: Patricia Clarkson, Dermot Mulroney, Glenn Close, Robert Klein, and the great Mary Kay Place are among the adult neighbors. The cast of kids too is impressive, especially Kristen Stewart, the androgynous-looking daughter from ''Panic Room,'' as the androgynous-looking daughter of angry divorced mom Clarkson.

•• Reel Film, David Nusair: Rating 3/4
Like Short Cuts and Magnolia before it, The Safety of Objects is the latest film to follow the lives of several characters that may or may not have a connection to each other. And while it's generally entertaining and superbly acted, the movie doesn't quite have the same emotional punch as those aforementioned flicks.

The problem with The Safety of Objects (which is quite a good film, don't get me wrong) is that a few of these storylines either feel as if they've been forcefully been jammed into the movie or they just don't seem organic to the characters. An example of the former would be the plight of Jake (Alex House), Jim's son, whose loneliness and active imagination has led him into a relationship with a Barbie doll belonging to his sister. The doll even talks to Jake, occasionally chastising him for not standing up for her. And though there are some laughs to be had out of this subplot (particularly in a sequence that finds Jake and the doll under a table in a local pizzeria), the whole thing is just too silly to really be taken seriously. Likewise, the progression of Mulroney's character from responsible family man to obsessed personal trainer feels rushed - it's just about the only aspect of the film that doesn't seem entirely organic (it's the sort of subplot that would only happen in a movie).

Having said that, there's a lot worth recommending about the film. The most intriguing character here is Esther, without a doubt. Though her son has been in a coma for months, she refuses to give up hope - taking time every day to talk to him, and ensure that he's comfortable. As the film goes on, we discover that Esther's daughter, Julie (Jessica Campbell), feels a certain amount of resentment towards her brother; as we eventually learn, though, there might just be a little guilt in there as well. It's certainly the most compelling aspect of the film, strengthened by relative newcomer Campbell's fantastic performance. Other storylines - including single mom Annette (Patricia Clarkson) and the mysterious handyman played by Timothy Olyphant - are just as effective in establishing a sense of loss amongst these characters. Finally, there's a song that essentially opens and closes the film that initially seems to be quite depressing, but finally becomes about redemption; it's a fantastic device put to great effect by writer/director Rose Troche.

The Safety of Objects is certainly worth checking out for the various actors, but those in search of a film with the searing impact of Magnolia will probably be somewhat disappointed.

•• Reelviews, James Berardinelli: Rating 2,5/4
The Safety of Objects exhibits some of the positives and many of the negatives that have characterized American independent cinema during the last decade. On the one hand, it is well-made and features solid performances from an ensemble cast. It also addresses issues. On the other hand, it shuns risk taking, preferring to play with a safety net. That's not to say this is a bad movie, but it never seems to be as good as it could be, and about 1/3 of the material put on screen doesn't work in one way or another. Part of me enjoyed The Safety of Objects, but another part of me was dissatisfied.

The film is the product of filmmaker Rose Troche, who, with her third feature (following Go Fish and Bedrooms and Hallways), is making a foray into the more mainstream side of the indie business. For this outing, she has assembled an impressive cast that features such mid-wattage names as Glenn Close, Dermont Mulroney, Joshua Jackson, Patricia Clarkson, and Moira Kelly. Indeed, there isn't a bad performance to be found, and that's one of the reasons the picture sometimes works. Close in particular is very good, and her character ends up being at the focal point of the movie's central moral dilemma.

The Safety of Objects is based on a book of short stories by A. M. Homes. In adapting the stories for the screen, Troche has interwoven them, creating a tapestry not unlike that of such familiar titles as Short Cuts, Magnolia, and Happiness, although with a less finely detailed texture. The film introduces us to four families living in the same suburban neighborhood - the Golds, the Trains, the Jennings, and the Christiansons. The Golds have suffered a loss - their teenage son, Paul, a promising musician, lies in a coma in his bedroom, the result of a car accident. His mother, Esther (Glenn Close), pampers him to the extent of alienating her husband (Robert Klein) and daughter, Julie (Jessica Campbell). Meanwhile, Paul's middle-aged lover, Annette Jennings (Patricia Clarkson), is struggling to make ends meet to support her two young daughters. Jim Train (Dermot Mulroney) has become so obsessed with his job at a law firm that he disconnects with his wife, Susan (Moira Kelly), and their children. Finally, Helen Christianson (Mary Kay Place) is looking for a little excitement in her marriage - something her husband seems unwilling (or unable) to provide. The lives and stories frequently intersect as the movie makes its way towards a conclusion that attempts to bring a form of closure to all that has transpired.

Although the film tells a sporadically involving story, its narrative approach is not seamless. The stories centered around the Golds and Jennings are far more interesting than those involving the Trains and Christiansons, who often seem to be on hand just to fill in gaps. Some of Troche's humor comes across as out-of-place; there are instances in which characters are reduced to caricatures just for a laugh. Sequences featuring the infatuation of a pre-teen boy with a Barbie doll might work on the written page, but they seem awkward and unconvincing on screen.

In general, the dramatic foundation of The Safety of Objects is on solid ground. The thing that separates the aforementioned ensemble films from this one is the depth of the characterizations and the believability of the narrative flow. There's something superficial about the men and women populating this film, and the storyline proceeds in a fairly linear, expected direction. The Safety of Objects is not a complete waste of time, but it doesn't make us feel the way better dramas do, and, in the end, it lacks the qualities that would make it memorable or powerful.

•• The Austin Chronicle, Kimberley Jones: Rating 3,5/5
A guitar. An antique chest. A Barbie doll. These are some of the objects that fill (but do not fulfill) the lives of the four families banging up against each other in The Safety of Objects, writer/director Rose Troche’s loose adaptation of the A.M. Homes short-story collection. The opening credits ingeniously lay the groundwork for this study in suburban soul-suck: From the minimalist, miniature doll houses, faceless doll figures are trotted out and introduced. At face value, they could pass for Good Housekeeping’s nuclear families of the year; within minutes, however, any illusions of normalcy are shattered. Simply put, these families are fucked in the head. How and why, exactly, is not immediately clear; the clues are in the objects. That guitar is a hand-me-down from brother Paul (Jackson) to sister Julie (Campbell). Paul is comatose, possibly brain-dead, the result of an accident only fully explained at film’s end; in his absence, Julie takes up the guitar and her big brother’s habit of etching a mark for each new sexual conquest on the guitar’s back. Before the accident, Paul was falling for an older woman and single mother named Annette (a luminous Patricia Clarkson); that antique chest is her ex-husband’s, and what a release when she smashes it up in the front lawn. Annette’s daughter Sam (Stewart) plays with the boy next door, Jake (House), but he’d rather play with his sister’s Barbie doll, who communicates with Jake in hushed, seductive coos – weird, yes, but also an inspired way of giving voice to the sexual confusion of puberty – and who would have thought that when that plastic doll is finally silenced it would feel like a death? These families’ stories continue to intertwine in surprising ways, most especially in a Hands on a Hard Body-like subplot involving Paul’s grieving mother (Close) and Jake’s so-very-very-close-to-meltdown father (Mulroney), contestant and coach in an endurance contest. At first, the film’s start-and-stop progression is awkward, but once all the stories get going, The Safety of Objects produces a quiet rush – where will they go next? How much can they hurt the ones they love? How will they ever recover from all this heartache? The denouement is too pat – and to a certain extent, so is the very premise; the banalities of suburbia are already firmly established in art – but the terrific ensemble acting and Troche’s genuine, nonjudgmental interest in exploring the weird places wounded people go, both internally and externally, amount to an insulated but moving portrait of the real nuclear family – kinda nuts, hanging by a thread, but bound by love nonetheless.

•• Time Out: Based on AM Homes' short stories, this is a left-field, Short Cuts-style collage of suburban America. It's an incident filled, adventurous, sometimes over-reaching catalogue of calamities and crises that constantly cuts between and cross-references four families: the Golds, Trains, Christiansons and the Jennings. Who said the suburbs were safe or dull? Esther Gold (Close, excellent) is so guilt-ridden and absorbed in caring for her comatose son Paul, she can't relate to her daughter or husband. Helen Christianson (Place) fancies houseboy Randy, whose reticence is explained by darkly ambivalent scenes of a child's abduction. Jim Train (Mulroney) is a lawyer in mid-crack up, pinning his hopes of transcendence on a car giveaway contest at a local mall. So it goes, the consumerist nightmare in all its sad ignominy. Troche's debut Go Fish was a similarly footloose examination of gay lives. On heterosexual ground, she shows herself capable of deep empathy, and a firm admirer of the cautionary tale. The film has far too many cul-de-sacs and cross-purposes to be entirely satisfactory, but it's rarely dull, often beautifully acted and designed, and both droll and compassionate.

•• Dustin Putman: Rating 4/4
The story of four dysfunctional families living in close proximity within the same suburban neighborhood, "The Safety of Object" takes a topic that isn't particularly new (think "American Beauty") and the unforced form of a Robert Altman picture (think "Short Cuts") to seamlessly interweave its complicated characters and their even more complicated lives into a wholly original and vibrant tapestry. The result is genuinely hypnotic, a passionate and deeply poignant motion picture that, no matter where you live, may remind you of your own past behaviors and actions. For me, an innocent, late-night game of Marco Polo in a swimming pool between three children was like peering through a kaleidoscope at my own childhood.

For director Rose Troche, who has had varying success in the past with her two previous pictures, 1994's "Go Fish" and 1999's "Bedrooms and Hallways," "The Safety of Objects" marks a major growth for her as a filmmaker. In beautifully adapting and conjoining a handful of short stories from author A.M. Homes' same-titled novel, Troche has gotten to the heart of the American Dream, or the eventual lack thereof, creating a sharply focused microcosm of familial life and the joys and hardships that go along with it.

The visually stunning and symbolically sound opening credits, in which the four families are wheeled out of their houses one at a time in the form of wooden sculptures, only to be forced into a prison that the film's title creates in front of the homes. The introduction scenes, alive in a way few screen moments ever are, cleverly finds connections between the four families and then edits them together to show how physically close and psychologically distant they are to one another. It's a stunning five minutes any way you look at it.

"The Safety of Objects" is a startlingly assured and multilayered drama, unforgettably acted and written, with small moments that are just as meaningful as the bigger ones. The center of the story—Paul's accident and subsequent coma—affects each of the four families in one way or another, whether they realize it or not. The sequences with Paul are, in many ways, its most heartbreaking, the way he is wheeled to the dinner table to sit with the rest of his family, or the way Esther still knocks on his bedroom door before entering, as if he has a say in the matter concerning whether she can come in or not. At another point, Julie and her two friends come in Paul's bedroom to check on him. Both of them used to have a crush on Paul, and when one of them touches his face, she comments, "He's warm," as if she cannot process that someone in Paul's condition could still technically be alive.

The other central event of the story is Esther's decision to enter a "Hands on a Hardbody" contest at the mall, in which the contestant who can stand around the truck touching it the longest wins it. Under a guilt trip from Julie, Esther wants to win the truck and give it to her daughter in a misguided attempt to make up for her parental neglect and undeniable favoritism. The now-out-of-work Jim is suddenly reinvigorated when he catches wind of Esther's valiant attempt, and decides that if he helps her to win it might be his savior. The contest brings hidden wounds to the surface for Esther and Julie, while Tim experiences a life-changing catharsis that comes right out of left field and stabs him squarely in the gut.

The entire ensemble cast is superlative, each one creating a distinct and three-dimensional individual out of sometimes sparse screen time. Giving the kind of emotionally naked and courageous performance that makes you wonder why she doesn't get more feature film work, Glenn Close (1999's "Cookie's Fortune") is stupendously effective as the conflicted Esther Gold. Jessica Campbell (1999's "Election") matches Close in terms of focus and complexity as daughter Julie, who wonders why Esther always seemed to prefer Paul over her.

As the crucial final scenes unfold while a tricky moral decision is contemplated, the film becomes a veritable tearjerker, yet remains honest and believable, successfully earning every one of its heartrending moments. "The Safety of Objects," a thought-provoking title that comes from the notion that objects—unlike living creatures—do not have the capabilities to hurt us, is the first truly great motion picture of 2003. It is rare that a movie is released as honest, perceptive, enthralling, and emotionally rewarding as this one is. Seek it out.

•• SF Gate, Mick LaSalle: "The Safety of Objects" is a noble attempt that doesn't hang together. The attempt, by writer-director Rose Troche, was to take a number of suburban tales by A.M. Homes and craft from them a single, interlocking narrative. But the result is confusion and convolution, a film about suburbia whose emotional impact is diffused and whose thematic connections seem laid on and arbitrary.

But the work Troche does with Clarkson can't compensate for the ultimate purposelessness of the film. Despite its title, "The Safety of Objects" is not about what happens to people when their investment in material things proves fruitless. The movie could just as easily have been called "The Safety of Human Relationships" or "It's Unsafe to Be Alive." It's about random people doing random things and having random sorrows.

•• Shadows on the wall, Rich Cline: Rating 4/5
There are heavy echoes of both Todd Haynes and Paul Thomas Anderson in this deeply emotional weaving of several suburban tales--most notably Far From Heaven, Safe, Magnolia ... and even Haynes' underground Karen Carpenter biopic Superstar. The story is about a group of neighbours whose lives are intertwined by a tragedy we won't fully understand until the end of the film, when we finally see how it explains the characters' actions now. In a nutshell, Esther (Close) is struggling to make up for past mistakes with her son (Jackson) by doing something outrageous for her daughter (Campbell). Jim (Mulroney) is a lawyer who barely knows his own wife (Kelly) and kids. Annette (Clarkson) is going through a nasty divorce. Helen (Place) approaches life with organisation and dry humour, and knows she needs a drastic change. And the neighbourhood gardener (Olyphant) has an achingly dark secret.

The interwoven structure both of the narrative and the timeline makes the film genuinely gripping as we discover the true nature of each character's neurosis. They're all seriously disturbed; and the more we get to know them, it's not easy to feel much sympathy. But the script cleverly draws us in anyway, with humour, raw emotion and tricky plotting that hints that something terrible's about to happen ... intimately linked with the past tragedy. This is stunningly sure-handed filmmaking, gradually bringing the fragmented, sometimes confusing structure into focus ... even though it gets somewhat intense and overwrought at the end. The performances, young and old, are beautiful--brilliant casting draws on each actor's strengths in such a striking way that you can't imagine anyone else playing the characters. Close gets the film's most powerful sequences, while Mulroney, Clarkson, Olyphant and Place also shine in layered roles. And the overriding message is an important one--that we've become far too distracted by the importance of things, whatever they might be.

•• Urban Cinefile, Louise Keller: A kaleidoscope portraying the interlocking lives of four families, The Safety of Objects takes an intensely personal look at the characters who live with their daily frustrations, guilt, regrets and hang ups. Wonderful performances engage us for much of the time, but the storyline (Rose Troche’s has selected seven stories from A.M. Homes’ short stories and woven them into a dense tapestry of human emotions) does not hold our attention for two hours. Much of time, the action becomes just plain dull and repetitive. Troche develops the characters well, and through their everyday lives we discover their secrets, their innermost thoughts and through flashback sequences, learn how and why they behave as they do. A revealing observation of human behaviour unravels, and we slowly begin to feel as though we know these people. A superb ensemble cast breathes life into these characters, headed by Glenn Close’s powerful portrayal of Esther, a mother trying to come to terms with the impact her comatose son has brought to the family. “There’s security in the fact that the worst has happened,” says Esther, who is clinging to her son as a lifeline in her dysfunctional family. We understand the professional disappointment for Jim Train, whose lack of a promotion becomes the catalyst for change. Then there are the marital difficulties, the squabbling children, the rebellious teenager, the lonely woman, the ex spouse’s rejection by his children, the young boy’s sexual obsession with his sister’s doll. Just like in real life, small triggers prompt big explosions. I like Dermot Mulroney’s Jim Train and Patricia Clarkson’s Annette Jennings is compellingly vulnerable. Timothy Olyphant’s Randy is a hauntingly unsettling character, who like many of the others will stay with you when the film ends. There are potently moving moments and much of the characterisations ring very true. But the film is far too long, and the parts are far more effective than the whole. The climax and ensuing conclusion satisfy, although it seems as though all the ends are tidied up far too neatly. Life is never really like that. The experience does, however, allows us to reflect on the fact that lives easily fall into ruts, and open our eyes to recycling the objects and symbols that form our security blankets.

•• Urban Cinefile, Andrew L. Urban: The Safety of Objects begins in a low key fashion, unusually unengaging with its tumble- bucket of snapshots of neighbouring families in various states of distraction, distance and dysfunction. We assume that close ups of disconnected items in a scene – a pair of sneakers walking up the stairs, say - will develop meaning; they are meant to heighten our expectations. But they end up disappointing us with no payoff. I found myself irritated and bored by the structure of the film and its inert style, which continues the way it begins, juxtaposing scenes of apparent profundity but without a key to approaching or understanding them. While characters are well observed and superbly delivered by a class A cast, the script has them performing perfunctory tricks of dysfunction for our ever deepening depression. Some of the devices used include ‘thought-over’ narration by a few of the characters, including a Barbie doll, the object of a young boy’s fantasies. This object is perhaps the only real connection to the film’s title and, presumably, its theme. But like so much of the film, Barbie is a disjointed element, like one of several short stories that are connected only by a literary device; which is exactly where the film comes from. The editing – more likely the desired structure – makes most scenes feel isolated, starting and ending in a vacuum. It’s ultimately a giant jigsaw which we are too close to identify, until the final 15 minutes. But here, the revelations totally unbalance the rest of the dramatic lead up in favour of a single traumatic event that enables us to slot some of the emotions into place. But by then patience has run out. I also found the ending quite false, a schmalzy ‘happy together’ scene that devalues the film’s profoundly earnest intentions.

•• Nitrate Online, Cynthia Fuchs: Objects seem safe. Unknowing and un-needy, they absorb desires and ask nothing in return, accommodating by definition. That's why you brush your doll's hair, trick out your car, frame your art. You can love your objects without fear of rejection. Or so you think. Rose Troche's The Safety of Objects, which she adapted from A. M. Homes' short stories, suggests otherwise. Here, objects offer only temporary respite, and when you realize they can't sustain the illusion of safety, the drop-off is devastating.

To make this rather obvious point, The Safety of Objects offers a series of disturbing relationships between humans and their chosen objects, most obsessive or destructive, all selfish and distressingly heedless. These relationships fester in a suburban neighborhood, where folks have too much time and space, too many objects around them. In this, the movie resembles other recent burb-breakdowns, from Ang Lee's sobering Ice Storm and any of Todd Solondz's increasingly grim visions to the portentous American Beauty and the soapy Life as a House.

Much like these films, Safety features a range of characters, across four families, harboring lots of secrets. Lawyer Jim Train (Dermot Mulroney), for example, is passed over for a promotion and walks out, not exactly quitting (so his secretary wonders when he's coming back, and covers for him) and explaining his sudden appearance back home as the result of a "bomb threat." (The terrorists have won, perhaps, when they serve as an excuse for this self-indulgent dweeb.) When Jim suspects that his wife Susan (Moira Kelly) is having an affair (and even more monumentally, for him, feels pressured by her request for a new dishwasher), Jim resets his own sights on a great big object -- an SUV that a local radio station is giving away, in a contest at the mall.

When he finds that he's too late to enter the contest (one of those keep-one-hand-on-the-vehicle-till-all-other-drop deals), Jim compromises in order to reach his all-important goal. He picks a likely winner, his neighbor Esther Gold (Glenn Close). She's already in the contest at the urging of her daughter Julie (Jessica Campbell), who wants the car less than she wants her mom to get it for her. Julie's reason for being so needy is obvious: for months, Esther has been spending all her time attending to another object, Julie's comatose brother Paul (Joshua Jackson). Glimpsed in flashbacks that lead, slowly, to the car accident that leaves him in this state, once aspiring rock star Paul now lies hooked up to tubes and gauges, still and unchanging. (And frankly, it's not a little weird to see Pacey so laid out.) For Esther, Paul's ever-after unconsciousness makes him perversely safe to love: he'll never leave her, never get in trouble worse than what he's in now.

Paul is thus the film's most excruciating object, and his vegetative condition -- so resonant and so inexorable -- affects everyone. As Esther makes him the focus of her desperate devotion, Julie and his father (Robert Klein) withdraw in horror and guilt, and his girlfriend, Annette (excellent Patricia Clarkson), feels herself the object of everyone's accusations. She's not wrong, especially when it comes to the couple of girls who had crushes on Paul, now checking out his coma-penis under the covers and watching Annette through her bedroom window, across the yard.

The film's objects continue to accumulate: Annette's daughter Sam (Kristen Stewart) is bravely tending to her autistic sister (Haylee Wanstall), and bearing up under her mom's moodiness and drinking and her dad's astonishing selfishness (he comes to visit only to announce that he's marrying his decidedly unmaternal younger girlfriend, then accuses Annette of turning his children against him).

Sam focuses her energies on basketball and her lively best friend Sally (Charlotte Arnold), daughter of the wise and weary Helen (Mary Kay Place, who steals every scene she's in, as usual). They smoke cigarettes, they giggle, they share secrets. But for all her efforts to fashion a life for herself outside the pathologies of adults, Sam can't quite elude all damage. She's been turned into another sort of object by the local gardener, Randy (Timothy Olyphant), himself mourning a terrible loss and fixated on Sam, not for her, but for what he projects onto her.

For all the objectification and distraction going on in The Safety of Objects, one relationship does stand out. Taking a cue from his frightened and frustrated father Jim, young Jake Train (Alex House) has found the ideal target for his adoration, a Barbie-type doll named Tani (perfectly, and deviously, voiced by Guinevere Turner, star of Troche's first film, Go Fish). Technically, the doll belongs to Emily (Charly Chalom), but whenever Jake has a chance, he takes her away for a bit of kissy-face and lustful chatter.

While the film tends to offer these stolen moments as a kind of dire comedy, as when, in a family restaurant scene, he takes Tani under the table to converse, as his fellow diners look on in some distress. Jake is, of course, emulating behavior he's seen elsewhere, his father's for instance, treating people (his kids, his wife, his coworkers) like objects, unable to imagine they have feelings or needs commensurate to his own.

But beyond the like-father, like-son match, Jake also reflects most everyone in this neighborhood, and, the film implies, the extended community of self-involved individuals that comprises the burbs. This makes Jake's story funny, if you're feeling superior, and tragic, if you're feeling sympathetic. In any case, if you're feeling anything for someone who's not you, you're a step ahead.

•• Fairfax Digital, Sandra Hall: Rose Troche's The Safety of Objects is about angst in the suburbs and is not a sequel to Sex and the City but an ensemble piece in the spirit of Robert Altman's Short Cuts and Ang Lee's The Ice Storm.

It looks at the intersecting lives of four families in the same street in the aftermath of a car crash which has left the neighbourhood's favourite son, Paul Gold (Joshua Jackson) in a vegetative state. He lies in the bedroom of his parents' home, where his mother, Esther (Glenn Close) nurses and grieves over him while the rest of the family try to get back to life as it used to be.

At the same time, we drop in on events in the surrounding households, where a potentially interesting cast, led by Dermot Mulroney, Patricia Clarkson and Dreamcatcher's Timothy Olyphant are trying to cope as Troche rapidly starts unpacking a typical grab-bag of domestic dramas to do with illness, divorce, lack of money, job dissatisfaction and unfulfilled sexual yearning. In other words, you may feel as if you haven't left home - at least if your home is equipped with a TV set.

In putting the script together, Troche worked in much the same way that Altman and his co-writer, Frank Barhydt did with Short Cuts. They took a selection of Raymond Carver stories set in different places, stitched them into a narrative quilt covering assorted suburbs of Los Angeles and ended up with a patchwork portrait of contemporary American society.

Troche has chosen short stories by a lesser known writer, A.M. Homes, but she does the same kind of sewing job, taking characters from disparate places and periods and setting them down in one spot. She's gone even further. Altman was content to suggest a theme. He was more concerned with mood, using it to explore the thought that violence runs just under the skin of everyday life. Troche is not as elliptical. Her stories are tied to her title, which is conceived as a reproach to American materialism, and before she's finished with them, her characters will receive a stern moral lesson in the pitfalls of depending too much on the things in their lives.

For Dermot Mulroney's lawyer, Jim, it's his job, which suddenly lets him down when he's passed over for a partnership. For Patricia Clarkson's Annette, it's the alimony she should be receiving from her ex-husband, who's walked out on her and her two children. For Esther's daughter, Julie (Jessica Campbell), it's the car her mother tries to win for her during a quiz marathon at the local shopping mall.

For Esther herself, it's the comatose body of her son, which has passed from real life and become an object.

The film's producers talk admiringly of the meticulousness with which Troche wove stories together. It was like a mathematical exercise, they say, and I can believe it. Plot rules at the expense of psychological truth, which means that her cast have trouble making sense of what they're required to do. Close looks convincingly drained by exhaustion, yet fails to seduce you into feeling for her because she's never allowed to relax long enough to give you a glimpse of the person beneath the mask of grief.

It's even worse for Mulroney, who is forced into behaviour which has him changing in the space of a couple of scenes from driven careerist to arrested adolescent - a manoeuvre which, on paper, may not seem like a radical change in direction, but is not easily accomplished in medium close-up.

Only Clarkson manages to escape the straitjacket and find Annette some breathing space. Her husky voice, angular elegance and febrile style have seen her safely through an odd bunch of pictures. Her performance as the junkie artist was the only thing worth watching in the otherwise risible High Art and she was one of the quieter delights of Todd Haynes's Far From Heaven as Julianne Moore's unreliable best friend.

And here you give thanks for her presence again, for she's the only one to bring the scent of real life to the picture. Everybody else is just going through the motions.

•• About Film, Carlo Cavagna: Rating C+
The latest entry in the slice-of-suburban-disaffection genre is The Safety of Objects, from writer/director Rose Troche of Go Fish and Bedrooms and Hallways. Like Lovely and Amazing and Happiness, and unlike higher-profile films like Magnolia or American Beauty, The Safety of Objects is not narrative driven, choosing simply to observe a few days in the lives of four neighboring families who are, the film implies particularly with its last shot, not so very different from any other four randomly chosen suburban families.

The Safety of Objects is itself not so very different from any other four randomly chosen suburban-disaffection films. With its multiple storylines involving kids struggling with adolescence and adults struggling with uncommunicative marriages and unfulfilling jobs, The Safety of Objects covers familiar territory. The twist in The Safety of Objects is that underneath this suburban world of self-alienation lie not repressed sexuality, illicit affairs, or sublimated rage, but grief and guilt.

Most of the characters are struggling in one way or another with the outcome of a devastating automobile accident that left one person dead and another in a coma. The coma victim is teenager Paul Gold (Dawson's Creek's Joshua Jackson, whose job is to lie still except in flashbacks). His mother, Esther (Glenn Close), nurses Paul lovingly but has little left over for her husband Howard (Robert Klein), who can't even look at Paul, and teenaged daughter Julie (Election's Jessica Campbell). Using Esther's feelings of guilt as leverage, Julie enters her mother into a local radio endurance contest to win a brand-new SUV.

Immediately before the accident, Paul was having an affair with much-older single mom Annette Jennings (Patricia Clarkson of Far from Heaven and The Untouchables), who also suffers his loss while juggling her messy divorce and two children (including Panic Room's Kristen Stewart) . Glenn Close and Patricia ClarksonHer friend Helen Christianson (Mary Kay Place) has her own children to take care of and feels undesirable and uninterested in her husband.

The fourth family consists of Jim and Susan Train (Dermot Mulroney and Moira Kelly) and their children Jake (Alex House) and Emily (Charly Chalom). Without telling Susan the details, Jim abandons his law firm after being passed over for a promotion. At home, he tries to reconnect with his son, but Jake is too busy handling the onset of puberty via an imaginary romantic relationship with a doll. Jim absconds to the local mall, where the radio contest is being held. He abruptly resolves that Esther must win the SUV at all costs.

A link between all the families is handyman Randy (Timothy Olyphant, Go, Rock Star), who is the only character to appear in a scene with each of the other characters. His house is mostly empty, because he believes that ownership of too many things leads to identifying oneself with one's possessions. This rather obvious moral is basically the film's message. Most of the characters use material things as solace from personal loss and confusion, be it a new SUV, a guitar, sporting goods, a fancy dishwasher, or even a plastic doll--thus the title. Even the names of two of the families--Gold, Train--are objects.

Though well-edited from a visual standpoint, the proto-Altman storytelling has glaring weaknesses. The Safety of Objects struggles with clarity, and some narrative decisions are just daft. Many of the relationships between the neighboring families and characters are presented rudimentarily, and why Jim makes Esther's contest for the SUV into his personal crusade is a mystery. It is possible to guess, of course, but The Safety of Objects doesn't seem terribly concerned with studying many of the characters too deeply. Randy's own grief--and self-prescribed remedy--is not probed sufficiently to explain his rather bizarre behavior. Then there are Annette's feelings for Paul. We have no idea how their relationship began, and without scrutiny, their affair is highly implausible, seemingly shoehorned into the script to make Paul's accident relevant to the Jennings family. If so, it is unnecessary, because the accident eventually affects the Jennings in another way. Jake's affair with the doll is also unlikely, but more forgivable because of its value as comedic relief. The muddled narrative is unsurprising, given that Troche adapted the film from a series of separate stories by A.M. Homes, which she juxtaposed and interwove. Not an easy task.

Due to a nagging lack of lucidity regarding key details, The Safety of Objects will not eject you from the theater having experienced cathartic revelations about the human condition. Yet the characters are unusual enough, the dialogue sharp enough, and the acting good enough that it is relatively pleasant watching these lives for a couple hours, regardless of how well you can relate them to yours.

•• One Guy's Opinion, Frank Swietek: Rating C
The strength of some of the best independent films is that they have the texture of short stories (from which they're often derived), so the fact that this effort from writer-director Rose Troche ("Go Fish") is based on a collection of them by A.M. Homes might be taken as an excellent sign. Unfortunately, the way Troche has chosen to use the source material is counterproductive. Instead of selecting one of the tales and adapting it economically for the screen, she's integrated a bunch of them, drawing her own links between characters and incidents. In doing so she wants to blend the comic and tragic elements of Homes's individual pieces into a broad portrait of a suburban world filled with strange longings and pressures; but the structure comes across as forced and artificial, and Troche never finds the proper tone for the resultant mixture of the lighthearted and the serious. Despite its title, "The Safety of Objects" is neither substantial nor emotionally involving. The episodes seem strained, the characters sketchy and underdeveloped, and the connections among them contrived.

Some of the acting among this large ensemble is very fine. Close does a nicely restrained turn as a woman on the verge of breakdown and desperately trying to control things, and Clarkson is solid as one who's life is already unraveling. But most of the others are hampered by the skimpiness of motivation the script endows them with--most notably Mulroney, who's pretty much stuck playing a lovable doofus. All of them, moreover, are undermined by uncomfortable shifts of mood throughout. The entire Gold scenario is deeply dramatic, for example, but much of the Train thread is farcical, with that involving young Jake positively bizarre. Most troubling, the business centering on the unfortunately-named Randy is simply unsettling, though well-played by Olyphant and the boyish Stewart.

"The Safety of Objects" has been well produced. Enrique Chediak's photography effectively captures the suburban milieu so expertly assembled by production designer Andrea Stanley; the atmosphere they've created is certainly authentic. It's the characters, unfortunately, who don't seem genuine. That's where the picture fails--and it's a fatal flaw.