Currently playing on VOD platforms
Director: Julia Dyer
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Film Pulse Score: 5/10
Often times I think people don’t give children enough credit. They have often shown the ability to comprehend more than most people realize. They may not understand it but in some roundabout way they get it. For example, I recently watched one of the Oscar nominated documentary shorts where a mother talks about how her young children don’t understand cancer but when they hear the word they know it’s what is making mommy sick and it’s inside her breast. It’s kind of rare to see a fully realized intelligent child or teenager portrayed on screen at least nothing comes to mind at this moment.
In Julia Dyer’s The Playroom, one day four bright children come home from school. Everything looks ordinary until the two eldest, Maggie and Christian, begin to clean up after what looks like a night of debauchery. The two youngest, Sam and Janie, just go about doing what kids do. Without really saying a word you can see they’ve been through this before and they just ambivalent to it all. However Maggie begins to suspect there is more going on then they know.
For a film that features some strong performances it’s unfortunate that as a whole it was pretty uneven. First let me get to what I didn’t like. Interspersed throughout the film are scenes where the children are sitting in the attic telling stories. Typically they are improvised stories about fantastic lands, daring escapes and adventure. The four siblings nurture each others creativity. These scenes really interrupted the narrative. In one moment Janie is all sad and broken and climbs out a window and then it cuts to the kids continuing to tell a story. For a moment I was like wasn’t she just out on the roof? While the main narrative was playing out Dyer should have cut back on these scenes. Another thing that bothered me was how when everything came to a head it didn’t really feel genuine to me. The way certain characters reacted and the actions taken were very underwhelming. Perhaps that is just how the characters were written and how they were to be portrayed but if that’s the case then maybe the focus should have stayed on the children then. I didn’t buy into the adults’ side of the story. For a film that is being touted as telling the story from the children’s perspective it should have stuck to those parameters.
Now the best part of this film and the only reason to see it are for the performances. The children are great and for what they had the adults, Molly Parker in particular, were good. Olivia Harris and Jonathan McClendon are very good as the oldest children. Through Maggie and Christian you really get a feel of just what the kids are going through and how detached they are starting to become from their parents, played by Parker and John Hawkes. Ian Veteto and Alexandre Doke, Sam and Janie respectively, really show their innocence but reveal just enough to show they know something is wrong. As the mother, Molly Parker is great. Tragic, insensitive, drunk, callous and lost. It’s a very layered performance that elevates any scene she is in. John Hawkes doesn’t fair as well as Martin, the father. At first he looks like someone you can get behind but in the end he was ineffective. He has his moments but the story takes a turn that makes me forget what scenes I did think he was very good in.
It was a good effort that could have benefited from a better structure and in one instance more drama. The performances are good enough to give it a look but in the end I sort of just shrugged thinking okay I got it the kids are alright I guess.