Seinfeld without the humor.
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time
As metaphors go towards reflecting character, this one is a good as it gets: Gardens "fall apart pretty quickly, and you have to take care of them." In Winter Solstice, Jim Winters' (Anthony LaPaglia) family needs plenty of care as it recovers from the loss of his wife and the two boys' mother. That piece of debut writer/director Josh Sternfield's dialogue is reminiscent of Miles' discourse about pinot noir in Sideways--T. S. Eliot's "objective correlative" describes the state of the characters.
In the Seinfeld mode, but without the humor, Winter Solstice is about nothing; little happens to set up traditional Greek rising and falling actions. It is profoundly about getting through without letting mom's death freeze you in sorrow. That older son Gabe (Aaron Stanford) plans to leave New Jersey for Florida is just another disappointment. That son Pete (Mark Webber) is a summer school regular hiding a bright mind must be endured until he emerges from his winter.
Jim does as well as can be expected keeping his family whole. As for himself, his landscaping business keep him alive with the artistic promise of more beautiful flowers and the humanistic comfort of working with people and getting to know new temporary neighbor, Molly Ripkin (Allison Janney).
The simplicity of the days coupled with the minimalism of dialogue and plot defines this small movie, which executive produce LaPaglia must have known wouldn't make any money. But he made it, as he did the estimable Lantana, for reasons that may be tied to the garden analogy, taking care to be more than a TV star. As Gabe says about leaving his fine girlfriend behind, "That's my problem, and I'm dealing with it."
I admire father, son, and director's ideals--they give us interesting small films such as Winter Solstice. As Shakespeare's Richard says in King Henry VI, Part iii, "I, that did never weep, now melt with woe/That winter should cut off spring-time so."
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com.