An Audience of Chairs is based off of the book by Joan Clark. In it we follow the story of Maura Mackenzie, a young woman in Newfoundland. An aspiring pianist who, thanks to her husband, misses her big audition, effectively ending her career. This sends her into a depression, which develops into serious mental illness. We follow her as she works to fight for her mental state, while also trying to prove that she is still capable of caring for her children.
This is all deep and compelling stuff. It’s well timed too with mental health awareness at its height. So, I feel a bit put out saying that An Audience of Chairs was just alright.
I liked the story. I liked it a lot. It isn’t just that it works as a way to demonstrate the effects of mental illness and show audiences another perspective on the topic. Which it does. It’s also a good idea for a story, plain and simple. Very early on you understand everything that you need to. You get that the marriage is strained from the get-go, and what missing out on this big chance does to Maura. She also does something very shocking at the beginning as a result. It’s perfect for demonstrating how and why she is seen as a danger to her children and herself, while having us still sympathise with her as a person needing help.
I also have no issue with the acting either. Carolina Bartczak does a good job as Maura. She’s always sympathetic and plays the part of a mental breakdown very well, without falling into over-acting ham or desperate for praise acting which many have been tempted with before. All of the other cast members play their parts well too. The script is a little uninspired with its dialogue, but everyone comes out of it strong, making the lines feel credible at times.
But the film around them feels uninspired. I have no idea what the budget for this film was. At times it feels like a modestly budgeted drama, with nice locations and some good shots. At others, it feels very low budgets and even a little rushed. This feels most prevalent in the house, which feels too restrictive for its own good. These moments can be fine for the claustrophobic moments, but when it’s meant to feel homely, I didn’t buy it. Because it was too closed off. There are some flashback moments that I understood only because of the dialogue that came in the following scene. It’s a very tell don’t show kind of film in that way.
The time jumps caught me off guard a little too. When she leaves the mental hospital and it’s been stated that six months have past was fine. It was a little tricky to keep track of the time due to the execution but wasn’t an issue. Towards the end, however, there was a much larger time gap – and that was jarring. Not to mention a little hilarious as the aging make-up after said moment was a mixed bag. At its best it did look very convincing. At all other times it looked like the actress had dyed her hair grey and had a bad night.
I liked An Audience of Chairs fine. But I wanted to like it more than just fine. It feels like there was a great story to be told, but the film was flatly directed and simplified to sometimes cartoonish levels. The husband in particular felt like he needed a top hat and curled moustache to complete the image he was making. But I do think that the story is worth it. And the acting is strong enough to carry it along. It doesn’t have a lot of re-watchability, but it’s definitely worth a go.
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