Everything Put Together

A riveting, often haunting chronicle of a young mother who's unable to come to terms with the loss of her firstborn baby, "Everything Put Together" is the second feature (and fourth film) by Marc Forster, a gifted Swiss-born, American-educated director. Aussie Radha Mitchell renders a staggering performance as the young woman whose grief almost drives her to madness.

With:
Angie - Radha Mitchell Barbie - Megan Mullally Russ - Justin Louis Judith - Catherine Lloyd Burns Kessel - Alan Ruck April - Michele Hicks Dr. Reiner - Matt Malloy

A riveting, often haunting chronicle of a young mother who’s unable to come to terms with the loss of her firstborn baby, “Everything Put Together” is the second feature (and fourth film) by Marc Forster, a gifted Swiss-born, American-educated director. Aussie Radha Mitchell, who’s rapidly maturing into a terrifically accomplished actress, renders a staggering performance as the young woman whose grief almost drives her to madness. A risk-taking distributor should pick up this tough, demanding picture, which is bound to travel the festival road as a sample of how digital technology could be applied to provocative storytelling.

Innovatively shot on digital video, drama recalls “The Celebration” in its emotional immediacy and psychological intensity, though it lacks the sharp narrative and characterizations of the 1998 Danish hit. Angie (Mitchell) and her husband, Russ (Justin Louis), live in a quiet suburban community where peace and order prevail. As the story begins, Angie is socializing with her best friends, Judith (co-scripter Catherine Lloyd Burns) and Barbie (Megan Mullally). The bond among the three femmes is strengthened by the fact that all three are pregnant.

As they excitedly prepare for parenthood, Angie and the loving, loyal Russ celebrate their good fortune with their close friends. But when Angie visits Dr. Reiner (Matt Malloy) for a checkup, there are signs that she’s overly anxious about her pregnancy. Her worries are confirmed when a day after what seemed like a textbook delivery of a healthy boy, the doctor pulls her hubby aside and whispers something in his ear. Intuitively expecting the worst, Angie screams hysterically — and her world collapses.

In brief scenes, helmer shows how Angie’s friends help to remove the nursery furniture and decorations from the baby’s room. The sympathetic doc tries to explain that the baby’s heart just stopped, and, that many infants die from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). His comments are to no avail; asking the inevitable question, “Why me?,” Angie seeks more rational explanations. Rejecting her caring husband’s support, she sinks into a severe depression.

Essence of the drama is how Angie — and her friends — deal with the tragedy and its aftermath. Whereas rituals of childbirth (morning sickness, birthing classes, baby showers, Christenings) are familiar to the three women, the loss of a child is uncharted territory, the kind of calamity for which there’s no preparation. Relying on their instincts, Angie’s chums and their spouses withdraw, based on their discomfort and belief that the grieving mother needs solitude.

Helmer Forster treats the catastrophe as a contemporary horror story, echoing in mood and style Roman Polanski’s masterpieces “Repulsion” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” both of which concern women in a state of withdrawal from others. At least half the narrative documents how Angie’s frightening ordeal, manifest in her refusal to accept reality, isolates her from those around her. She goes to the morgue to examine her baby; she insists on visiting the place where her baby’s toys are buried; she watches children and their mothers playing in the park.

Though one of the three scripters, Burns, is a woman, the film comes across as being told from a detached male perspective, which might put off some female viewers. Dominated by one character, the narrative suffers from a schematic construction that strains credibility.

With the exception of Angie’s part, which is finely shaded, all the roles are one-dimensional. This is particularly true of Angie’s mom, whose voice is heard in telephone conversations, and who’s too busy to visit her suffering daughter.

Yet whatever problems critics may have with the script, pic’s weakest aspects are almost overcome by Forster’s bravura visual style, endowing a rather familiar story with a fresh, bold treatment. Almost every scene is shot from an unusual angle, and framing is decidedly offbeat. In its hauntingly eerie effects, Matt Chesse’s editing brings to mind the cutting of Nicholas Roeg’s films, particularly “Don’t Look Now,” which this pic resembles thematically.

As shot by Roberto Schaefer, the story’s tension and dread prevail, lending pic unpredictability and a strong sense of foreboding. Using natural lighting as much as possible, this transfer of digital video to film is uneven in what seems to be an extremely low-budget effort.

It’s almost impossible to imagine the film without Mitchell, who dominates every frame with a dauntless performance that should place her at the forefront of film actresses.

Everything Put Together

Production: A Furst Films production. Produced by Sean Furst. Executive producer, Adam Forgash. Co-producer, Jill Silversthorne. Directed by Marc Forster. Screenplay, Adam Forgash, Catherine Lloyd Burns, Forster.

Crew: Camera (color, digital), Roberto Schaefer; editor, Matt Chesse; production designer, Paul Jackson; sound (Dolby), Jim Dehr; associate producer, Radha Mitchell. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 24, 2000. Running time: 85 MIN.

With: Angie - Radha Mitchell Barbie - Megan Mullally Russ - Justin Louis Judith - Catherine Lloyd Burns Kessel - Alan Ruck April - Michele Hicks Dr. Reiner - Matt Malloy

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