I’m Not Here

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It’s rare that you see a movie that can shake you to your core. As a movie critic that sees practically every movie that comes out, it’s always a pleasant surprise when a movie knocks my socks off, especially when it’s a smaller, indie movie. And when it comes to indie flicks, you might not see a stronger cast than the one assembled here. Singer Mandy Moore (This is Us) plays a mother dealing with an alcoholic husband (Max Greenfield, The Big Short). Iain Armitage (Young Sheldon) plays their 6-year-old son. Comedic actor David Koechner (Anchorman, 40-Year-Old-Virgin, Talladega Nights, etc.) plays a lawyer. Sebastian Stan, the unsung actor of I, Tonya (better known as Bucky in Captain America), turns in a stunning performance as a functioning alcoholic.

Child actor Jeremy Maguire (Modern Family) makes his feature film debut, and reminded me of how adorable we thought the child was in Kramer vs. Kramer almost 30 years ago.

The best performance comes from the star of the movie that, surprisingly, doesn’t have a single line of dialogue. Oscar-winner J.K.Simmons (Whiplash) plays the Steve character at a much older age. He conveys so much with his facial expressions. 60-year-old Steve is contemplating suicide, as he walks around his empty house drinking, and listening to various messages on his answering machine. We get flashbacks that shed a little bit of light (ironically, in a house where the electricity is about to be turned off), and you start to understand why he’s in such a bad place. Sure, a lot of it has to do with the booze. But when you see how as a kid he dealt with his parents’ divorce (and dad’s alcoholism), as well as other things his dad did — you slowly start to sympathize.

One of the many refreshing things about this film is that it doesn’t just go through the cliches you’ve seen before in movies dealing with alcoholism. When we see relationships falling apart, or working out after some drama…it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen on screen. So often I’m wondering in a movie, why that woman would take that man back (for example, in Stan’s movie I, Tonya). In this fictional story, the audience can see the motivation behind the characters’ decisions. For example, both of the fathers we see in this, are shown being very good with their kids. Even if they’ve got a brandy snifter in one hand as they’re racing cars, or drawing pictures with their son.

At a San Diego International Film Festival event where I saw the film, I was sitting next to Cathy Rigby (Peter Pan). She talked about how powerful the movie was, having an uncle and brother that were alcoholics. I too, have a brother that’s an alcoholic, as well as a father that had battles with the bottle. Yet this isn’t a movie that will just resonate with people that have had to deal with a loved one that’s an alcoholic.

It has the most powerful ending I’ve seen in a film all year. Director Michelle Schumacher deserves a lot of credit for that. She also co-wrote this with Tony Cummings, who she worked with on 3 Geezers!, also starring her husband J.K. Simmons.

When I’m Not Here comes out, whether that’s a wide release, Netflix, or some small theatre you have to drive 38 miles on backroads to get to — go see it, and thank me later.

I’m giving it 3 1/2 stars.

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