There is a certain freedom when you lose everything you ever cared about in life. It sounds insane, I know. But it simplifies the process of life. It means you can start from scratch... A clean slate if you will.
"Duane Hopwood" (David Schwimmer) first loses his sobriety, then his wife and two daughters, then his job, then his hope and comes dangerously close to losing his will to live. At the custody hearing, he tells the judge that he "needs a reason to stay".
The only thing Duane doesn't lose is the unconditional love of his daughters and the loyalty of a very quirky group of friends.
What is so skillful about this film is the way in which it balances our sympathy for Duane's tragic situation with our understanding that Duane is the cause of his own problems and the only one who can remedy them.
The pivot, around which the film's emotional power revolves, is the quite magnificent transformation of David Schwimmer from the almost unshakable familiarity of his role as Ross on NBC's 'Friends' to this ever so sad and bedraggled ex-husband and father who is desperate to stop the sand slipping through his fingers. This is absolutely a career transforming role that, surprisingly to me, certifies that he has a very promising film career as a dramatic actor in front of him. If enough people see this film, he will be reaping the rewards with great parts for years to come.
Janeane Garofalo also delivers in an atypical role. As Duane's estranged wife, she delicately balances the cold-hearted reality of wanting to move on with her life and the sympathetic understanding of someone who knows him better than anyone else. Her role could so easily have drifted into cynical and clichéd 'mean ex-wife' territory... but this film is too smart to go down that path.
There are some truly fine performances from the supporting cast members. Judah Friedlander & Susan Lynch are both very good as Duane's new support system. Friedlander plays Anthony, an aspiring comedian who becomes Duane's roommate. Lynch is Duane's first girlfriend since getting divorced. Each of them change the pace of the film nicely and add depth and nuance to an already powerful story.
I also want to point out the girls who play Duane's kids. So often I complain that bad performances from kids can ruin the believability of a film... However, Ramya Pratt & Rachel Covey are both splendid here.
This film feels like a cross between "The Family Man" and "Leaving Las Vegas"... an odd combination indeed. But it works on so many levels. I laughed during this film. I shed tears in the final act. I cared about each and every character. It is a tremendously well written screenplay, and it is acted with precision.
This is a small independent feature that really deserves a wide audience. Unfortunately, it will have trouble finding one because it doesn't have a huge publicity campaign behind it or 75 copies lining the shelves of DVD stores. I can only hope that word of mouth and positive reviews like mine will convince a few people to seek this film out. If they do, they will find a diamond in the rough and will be telling all their friends about it too.