I often find myself using the term melodrama as a dirty word, particularly when critiquing low budget independent films. I acknowledge that I shouldn’t do that, melodrama as a genre doesn’t mean bad, Magnolia is in every essence melodramatic, and it’s a masterpiece. However, there is something about the genre in the hands of debuting and promising directors that sees everything go wrong very quickly. Cyrus Mirakhor’s first feature film “Wake.” falls victim to this, and it could have been so much more.
Carey Crim adapted the scripted from her play of the same name. It tells the story of Molly Harrison (Myndy Crist), her mother Ivy (Caroline Lagerfelt) and daughter Sam (Page Searcy) and how they deal with Molly’s severe agoraphobia that manifested when her husband died three years ago. As a joke present for her birthday, Sam and her grandmother buy Molly a life-sized doll they christen Pedro, and all is well until Molly begins to see it come to life as her deceased husband, Peter (Jo Koy). From there, Molly juggles her anxiety, her mother and daughter and tries to find it within herself to explore her feelings for Joe (James Denton), a documentary filmmaker she meets through work.
A lot happens in this movie, so much that the runtime is a massive problem. An hour and a half isn’t enough time to explore the giant themes Wake throws at us. Loss, mental illness, parental influence across generations, and romance are all a factor in the story at some point, and it becomes too much very quickly. Early on, I began to think that this setting would have worked far better in a television format; I actually think it would have been quite good. But as a movie, Wake doesn’t function.
The tone changes with every scene because the humour doesn’t balance evenly against the bleak concept. As such Mirakhor fails to create genuine resolutions because the film is so uneven and rushed. So when the time comes to begin wrapping everything with a nice big bow Wake dissolves into melodrama, and I say that with the harshest of connotations.
Wake has a very distinct moment where everything begins to collapse around Molly and her family, and it begins with the best scene in the entire film. Paige Searcy delves deep into her repertoire as a performer and finds a pitch that is incredibly moving in a crucial scene, and she steals the movie in the process. In this moment, around an hour into the film, the emotional turmoil between mother and daughter begins to erupt, and Sam bares herself to her mother and pleads with her; it moved me to tears.
I loved this scene with all my heart; what I didn’t love was every minute that followed. Unfortunately, this heartbreaking piece of writing and acting triggers every other plotline disintegrating into turmoil and what I believe Mirakhor intended to be a dramatic crescendo only amounts to a melodramatic calamity.
There is one other glaring issue with the narrative, and it’s Pedro the gag doll. Pedro comes to represent the big thing that holds Molly back, which we know right from the start is her dead husband, Peter. From the moment he first appears it’s unclear what he represents, at first, he’s a joke, then he’s a lover, and then he becomes a physical presence that will do anything to hold Molly back.
It’s clear she doesn’t know how to move on from her husband’s death, but it all feels like a condemnation of a man whom, to our knowledge, didn’t deserve to be condemned. Molly’s only way of moving on is to blame her husband and cut him out of her mind, and I don’t believe that is a wise or logical depiction of closure, and it left me scratching my head.
Wake. has all the potential to be an emotionally satisfying television show. However, as a film, it simply doesn’t work. Keep an eye on the impressive Paige Searcy though; this endeavour should be a mere blip on the career she should go on to have.
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