Intimate two-hander offers a fine showcase for Kim Hunter and Timothy Bottoms, long absent from leading roles on the bigscreen. But despite the generally strong performances in “The Hiding Place,” and the best efforts of debuting feature director Douglas Green, this play-based exploration of a mother and son grappling with family secrets and the unsettling onset of senility remains stubbornly stage-bound in feel. Rather familiar dramatic proceedings are best suited to cable and video.
On his 49th birthday, Jack (Bottoms) pays his weekly visit to his elderly mother, Muriel (Hunter), who, to his consternation, is slipping in and out of the past. She repeatedly refers, in the present tense, to her dead husband and her other, absent son, and intermittently mistakes Jack for an unwanted suitor, her living room for the bar to which he’s taken her. Believing Muriel may have suffered a stroke, Jack tearfully calls his wife, the controlling and ever-efficient Holly (Kim Greist, good), who within minutes has made arrangements for her mother-in-law to be admitted to a geriatric hospital — on whose waiting list she placed Muriel four years earlier, without telling Jack.
Pic unfolds mostly in real time as Jack attempts to gather his mother’s essentials for the hospital and she does her best to forestall Holly’s plan. The action is believable in its halting, frustrating progress, although the circling about of the two protags becomes somewhat tiresome, never quite exploding into full cinematic life, and dulling the intended emotional wallop.
Setup recalls the final plight of Blanche DuBois in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” and Hunter, who created the role of Stella Kowalski, plays a low-key cross between Blanche and Norma Desmond: delusional, reclusive, flirtatious, imperious, manipulative and frightened. At 78, Hunter still has an offbeat, delicate beauty, and acting chops to spare. But as written, Muriel remains more construct than character — even given her dementia, it doesn’t quite hold water that this proud, coquettish woman is the person who lived unhappily for years under her husband’s thumb — a man whose oppressiveness still seems to darken the interiors of the family home.
In the decidedly less theatrical role, Bottoms (looking alarmingly like George W. Bush) delivers a sensitive portrayal of a man choked with self-disappointment, and with the 30-year weight of having accepted the blame, and the emotional punishment, for a tragedy that wasn’t his fault. Forever diminished beside his golden-child brother, Jack is trapped between a demanding wife, for whose love he’s nonetheless grateful, and a distant mother, whose love he doesn’t quite believe.
Mitch Giannunzio’s script, based on his play, intriguingly leaves things unsaid, avoiding the dramatic pitfall of all-encompassing, gasp-inducing third-act revelations; the disclosures here are of a realistically quiet, open-ended nature. Final moments find Jack alone, in the shadows of his childhood home, facing the harsh reality of unresolved family matters and bitter self-awareness.
Pic is technically solid. Green and d.p. John Leuba work hard to make the limited action visually interesting. Particularly effective is Wendy Guidery’s production design, which captures the look and feel of decades’ worth of accumulated trinkets and treasures. Kevin Klingler’s dark string score is used sparingly, to good effect.