The thawing of a snowbound young man's aimless existence is the heavily applied metaphor in "Aurora Borealis." Alternately breezy and profound, pic hits enough emotional chords to connect with auds, which will be charmed by a newly mature Joshua Jackson, a deeply aged Donald Sutherland and a frisk-ily romantic Juliette Lewis.

The thawing of a snow-bound young man’s aimless existence is the heavily applied metaphor in “Aurora Borealis.” Alternately breezy and pro-found, pic hits enough emo-tional chords to connect with auds, which will be charmed by a newly mature Joshua Jackson, a deeply aged Donald Suther-land and a friskily romantic Juliette Lewis. This reps a solid item for mid-level fests and will offer warmer returns in ancil-lary than in cool theatrical venues.

Resistant toward any real job, 25-year-old Minneapolis native Duncan (Jackson) resembles a Kevin Smith character shuffling through life, demanding little of himself and expecting little in return. His slackerdom is under-lined by occasional clashes with corporate-driven bro Jacob (Ste-ven Pasquale).

Director James Burke, with writer Brent Boyd, admirably retreat from judging their charac-ters, an attitude that’s especially helpful in Duncan’s case. The sudden need to help his ill grand-father Ronald (Sutherland) — who’s more than grandmother Ruth (Louise Fletcher) can handle most of the time — serves the rather elementary dramatic pur-pose of forcing Duncan to behave like an adult.

With multiple afflictions, Ronald is every elderly aud member’s worst nightmare. Duncan makes the giant step (for him) of landing a handyman’s job in his grandpar-ent’s building so he can be close to them. Too obviously entering as Duncan’s future love interest, home nurse Kate (Lewis) is hired as a therapist for Ronald and, meeting Duncan in his most empa-thetic mode, it’s charm at first sight.

Pic goes through the rather predictable hoops until the pair discovers their rather stark dif-ferences. Latter element is over-played with dialogue insistently noting that while Duncan has never lived anywhere beyond Minneapolis’ city limits, Kate hardly stays in one city long enough to get a b.f.

Easing viewers over the lumpy mid-section and through the predictable third act is the un-abashed good nature of Jackson and Lewis, both of whom have rarely been so enjoyably charis-matic. Going against his WB-engendered cocky persona, Jack-son stresses Duncan’s vulnerabili-ties thereby centering the film emotionally. Lewis winningly plays it straight.

Sutherland may ham it up a tad as an old codger with shaky hands, but he does it with theatrical flair that works to his sad character’s advantage. Fletcher is a rather marginal participant amidst the good thesping.

Even compared to the Coen Brothers, Minnesota has rarely felt as Arctic as it does here, all the more impressive for the mas-sive amounts of artificial white stuff production had to haul in for Alar Kivilo’s fine lensing of plenti-ful midwinter sequences. Usually estimable composer Mychael Danna contributes one of his least inspired scores. Pic would be boosted by some trims, especially in second act.

Aurora Borealis

Production

An Entitled Entertainment presenta-tion in association with Rick Bieber Prods. (International sales: Visionbox Media Group, Los Angeles.) Produced by Scott Disharoon, Rick Bieber. Directed by James Burke. Screenplay, Brent Boyd.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color, Panavision widescreen), Alar Kivilo; editor, Richard Nord; music, Mychael Danna; music supervisor, Frankie Pine; production designer, Taavo Soodor; art director, Barry Isenor; set decorator, Erica Milo; costume designer, Anne Dixon; sound, Rick Penn; supervising sound editor, Byron Wilson; visual effects supervisor, Marlo Pabon; special effects coordinator, Marianne Klein; associate producer, Jayne Amelia Larson; assistant director, Walter Gasparovic; second unit director, Ted Hanlon; second unit camera, Perry Hoffman; casting, Monika Mikkelsen . Reviewed at Santa Barbara Film Festival, Feb. 6, 2006. (Also in Tribeca Film Festival.) Running time: 110 MIN.

With

Duncan - Joshua Jackson Ronald - Donald Sutherland Kate - Juliette Lewis Ruth - Louise Fletcher Lindstrom- Zack Ward Stu - Kapelos Jacob - Steven Pasquale
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