TIFF 2015: Five Nights In Maine
A small but touching film, Five Nights In Maine tackles the pain of strained family bonds and sudden loss. A first feature by writer/director Maris Curran, it is an intimate look at coping despite one’s self.
Sherwin has his future all planned – he wants to be a father and his wife Fiona has agreed to start trying. We get a few glimpses of their marital bliss before tragedy strikes. Suddenly a widower, Sherwin has to learn how to live his life for himself again. This is seemingly impossible until he meets an impossible woman – his mother-in-law Lucinda.
Cranky and controlling, Lucinda had objected to Fiona and Sherwin’s marriage, nearly tearing them apart. In the face of her mother’s judgement, we learn that Fiona had begun to doubt her desire to start a family, and so Sherwin is left begin with only the dreams of what might have been. He is naturally resentful of Lucinda, but by chance Fiona had left him a voice mail message with what becomes her last request – visit Lucinda before it’s too late.
Lucinda is dying of cancer, and now has to face the unimaginable loss of her daughter. With only her nurse Anne (played with grace by Rosie Perez) as company she has become the very embodiment of spite. She allows Sherwin to visit, but it seems more out of a desire to poke at his pain than to sympathize. After only a few days together emotions run high and they find themselves fighting a losing battle as to whose grief over Fiona’s loss is more valid. It is painful to watch, and very real. When one is afflicted by loss it seems impossible to imagine that anyone else can possibly understand. But Anne’s steadying influence, and finding empathy for one another is ultimately what helps them both begin to heal.
David Oyelowo (most recently seen in Selma) joined this project as both actor and producer because he has experienced loss on his life and could relate to the subject matter. It was also learning experiment for him, how differently women and men deal with grief. His character Sherwin finds this out for himself, dealing first with his sister Penelope, Lucinda’s nurse Anne, and then with Lucinda herself. Danny said in the Q & A that male grief tends toward the self-destructive (evidenced by Sherwin’s drinking and smoking). The three women however represent styles of female grief – Penelope is youthful vigor and the drive to move on, Anne is sadness and quiet acceptance, while Lucinda is controlled fury. These disparate influences guide Sherwin out of his darkness.
For a first-time feature effort, Curran’s film is a bit creaky, but I think held up. The subject could have easily been presented in an overly maudlin fashion, but there was gentle subtlety instead. The tiny cast had great chemistry, and they were well equipped to present the raw emotion that the characters were feeling. My quibbles come from a lack of driving force. Dianne Wiest was incredibly powerfully in her role, and I found that I wanted to see the conclusion of Lucinda’s story more than Sherwin’s. We learn next to nothing about the lives of these characters before the tragedy changes them, which makes it difficult to follow their journey. Sherwin seems to drift through the story, so his epiphany at the end doesn’t feel completely earned. That said, I almost didn’t see this film due to scheduling foolishness on my part, but while it’s not close to being my favorite of the festival I did enjoy it and am glad I made it.