Shirley Cooperberg Ellen Burstyn
Susan Cooperberg Amanda Plummer
Eli Cooperberg Ted Levine
Edward Cooperberg Mark Blum
Diane Mary McDonnell
Joelle Genevieve Bujold
Simon Cooperberg Jacob Tierney
TV Repairman Roch Lafortune
Linda Macha Grenon
Nurse Genevieve Brouillette
Art Patron Dorothee Berryman
Conduct under pressure is the source of caustic humor and poignancy in “You Can Thank Me Later.” Set primarily in a hospital room where a family awaits the results of the father’s operation, the emotional battlefield is a series of zingers that touch sensitive nerves and tickle the funnybone. Yet Oren Safdie’s script falls short of achieving the proper balance and focus to make its extremes come together. The top-notch cast keeps pic interesting and should ensure some theatrical play, though the film’s best commercial prospects are in small-screen ancillaries.
Shirley Cooperberg (Ellen Burstyn) is the strong-willed matriarch of a well-heeled Montreal Jewish family. While her husband is under the surgeon’s scalpel, her children arrive at the hospital. Eli (Ted Levine) is an oft-divorced, failed writer; Susan (Amanda Plummer) has been pouring her myriad neuroses onto canvas but has yet to find an appreciative audience; and Edward (Mark Blum) is a successful producer of touring Broadway plays. They are the picture-perfect embodiment of a dysfunctional family.
Expanding on Safie’s play, director Shimon Dotan wades into Neil Simon territory. The recriminations, failures and barely contained bile hurled amongst principals are familiar in their wickedly funny, combative bent. It’s a dry humor laden with modern-day angst and given a slightly novel spin when transplanted from New York to bilingual Quebec. Otherwise, the uptown group share the affluence and anxieties of Simon’s Manhattanites.
Also in the stew are a mistress (Genevieve Bujold) posing as a nun, Eli’s ex-wife (Mary McDonnell) and son (Jacob Tierney), a feisty nurse (Genevieve Brouillette), Edward’s wife (Macha Grenon) and an ever-present TV repairman (Roch Lafortune) who’s a virtually mute witness to the bad behavior.
The issues and epiphanies aren’t particularly fresh. Money, sibling rivalries , displaced affections and the like account for the fomenting hostilities. But the primary reason pic stumbles is simply that the material isn’t sufficiently funny. The transition from light comic barbs to painful realization is just short of the cathartic potency required because the laughs don’t segue organically into the more serious elements of the piece.
Nonetheless, the ensemble tries valiantly to keep the material buoyant. Burstyn is a tad too shrill, and Blum’s character is obvious and unsympathetic. Yet Levine has a stoic decency that both humanizes and groundsthe situation, and Plummer’s frailty is nearly heartbreaking. Among the support group, McDonnell is excellent, Tierney an effective brat and Lafortune is a scene stealer as the proverbial fly on the wall.
Dotan tends to let scenes play on too long but is relatively clever at filming the hospital sections in a way that makes them less claustrophobic and stagy. He’s also invented a series of flashbacks to open up the tale. But ultimately, one simply doesn’t want to spend such a long time with this troubled brood.