Retro Film Review: Unstrung Heroes (1995)
Modern Hollywood's inability to tell a compelling story can be best seen in 200 million US$ worth of maritime disaster reconstruction being the only thing to make audience sob. Some films, made for significantly less money, can have similar impact, but they generally don't get hyped enough. One of them is Unstrung Heroes, 1995 drama directed by Diane Keaton.
The plot, based on the autobiographical book by Franz Lidz, takes place in early 1960s Los Angeles. Sid Lidz (played by John Turturro) is an inventor whose total dedication to science reflects in his bizarre devices. For many, including his wife Selma (played by Andie MacDowell), Sid looks so eccentric that they wonder about him being from another planet. However, despite all those eccentricities, Sid and Selma provide good home to their 12-year old son Steven (played by Nathan Watt) and younger daughter Sandy (played by Kendra Krull). This utopia begins to shatter when Selma gets diagnosed with terminal cancer. Sid, unable to deal with the situation for which his belief in science can't provide answer, gets distant from his children. This affects Sid deeply and he sees refuge among two of his uncles who happen even more eccentric than Sid – quiet, infantile Arthur (played by Maury Chaykin) and paranoid Danny (played by Michael Richards). They rename Sid into Franz and want to raise him as traditional Jew, which leads to conflict with atheistic Sid.
Diane Keaton fills her film with many crowd-pleasing elements - 1960s nostalgia, quirky but lovable characters, adorable children, profound lessons about life, pandering to sentimentality over reason etc. Yet, for the most part she evades most of the commercial traps because the characters, played by experienced and talented actors, look like real human being instead of usual Hollywood cartoons. Even Andie MacDowell, whose acting talent often leaves much to be desired, is effective in her role of dying mother. John Turturro abstains from overacting - scenes in which his character is silent are among the most powerful in the film. However, there are some gaps in the narrative structure of Unstrung Heroes, mostly those created by Keaton's inability to properly explain Steven's transformation into Franz. But Unstrung Heroes is nevertheless a very effective film which shows something rarely seen in Hollywood these days - genuine emotion.
RATING: 6/10 (++)
(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.films.reviews on January 21st 2004)
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Movie URL: https://www.themoviedb.org/movie/52856-unstrung-heroes