Film Review: ‘Change in the Air’

A secretive young woman breezes into town, followed by a flood of mysterious mail, but the revelations are nothing to write home about in Dianne Dreyer’s disappointing indie drama.

Dianne Dreyer
Mary Beth Hurt, Aidan Quinn, Rachel Brosnahan
Release Date:
Oct 19, 2018

Rated PG  1 hour 34 minutes

Though director Dianne Dreyer’s “Change in the Air” opens on a shocking, attention-grabbing scene of a desperate elderly man (played by M. Emmet Walsh) deliberately stepping in front of a moving vehicle, the rest of the film takes its sweet time to ramp up to faux profundity about humanity, spirituality, friendship, and forgiveness. The title is not only an allusion to the mysterious young lady (played by Rachel Brosnahan) who changes lives in a quiet suburban neighborhood, but also applies rather morbidly to the literal change that flies from the hand of that suicidal man.

With religious hymns scattered throughout, along with mentions of miracles, Eastern philosophy, and overt metaphysical powers, it’s clear the filmmakers are aiming for the faith-based market. However, the film has about as much resonance as a “Coexist” bumper sticker. Without a compelling, coherent narrative drive, the film’s own spirit sags.

Wren Miller (Brosnahan) has recently moved to a new town and rented a modest, sparsely decorated apartment above music teacher Donna Olson’s (Macy Gray) garage. Constantly cloaked in subdued, soft fabrics and bathed in a halo of sunlight, she is an ethereal, beguiling presence — a tangible apparition. She receives sacks of letters daily, delivered by perky postman Josh Kassouni (Satya Bhabha), who begins to suspect that this reclusive tenant is somehow important. He can’t help but wonder: Where do all these letters come from, and what is she doing with them? The quest to unravel Wren’s secrets sends the town into a tizzy. Though she’s skilled at keeping to herself, her days of privacy end when a series of events stokes the curiosity of her neighbors and the authorities.

After Wren reports Walter Lemke’s (Walsh) suicide attempt, she’s forced to dodge inquisitive police officer Moody Burkhart (Aidan Quinn), who delves into her personal history to determine if she’s a grifter. She also tries her best to elude nosy busybody Jo Ann Bayberry (Mary Beth Hurt), who snoops in Wren’s apartment and steals her mail. Although Jo Ann’s ornithologist husband Arnie (Peter Gerety) urges his wife to stop meddling, he can’t help but feel Wren is somehow responsible for his recent rare bird sightings.

All of this would be much more engaging if Dryer and screenwriter Audra Gorman could make their shenanigans carry any emotional weight, or convey a clearer connection between the newcomer and her community. Apart from positive changes to Jo Ann, Arnie, and Walter, it’s unclear how Wren impacts the other characters’ lives: Walter’s caring wife Margaret (Olympia Dukakis) spends more time with Walter after his suicide attempt, but she never comes into direct contact with Wren. Moody is driven to figure Wren out, but his character doesn’t experience any personal change or catharsis because of her (one frustrating phone call to a pizza place and a maddening pharmacy visit don’t make for a fully-fleshed-out character arc). Donna rents the room to Wren, but Wren doesn’t do anything to heal her landlord’s hidden anguish. And while it’s lovely to see the neighborhood rally around laconic Walter post-accident, that’s not Wren’s doing either. For a “change agent,” she’s not earning her commission.

Despite all the feelgood wholesomeness the film spoon-feeds the audience, there’s a darker side left unaddressed. Many of the characters’ quirks and eccentricities aren’t cute; they’re corrosive. Jo Ann and Josh rifling through Wren’s mail is criminal and irredeemable, regardless of the film’s banal lesson about forgiving flawed folk. The same goes for Walter, who nearly saddles an innocent driver with the guilt and trauma of his suicide. It’s great that Wren’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl qualities don’t overtake the narrative, but it’s annoying that the cloying cliché even rears its ugly head.

Those simply seeking to bask in Brosnahan’s glowing talent should look elsewhere. Though everyone in this film’s world orbits Wren, she’s practically relegated to a supporting player. The material just doesn’t afford her any star-making movie moments. Hurt, who passionately pours her heart and soul into her performance, is given the most screen time. Unfortunately, the uninspiring calamity that befalls her character isn’t up to par with her abilities.

Overall, the film leaves audiences with many more questions than it ever dares answer. The tale that Dreyer and Gorman spin simply cannot sustain the mystery of Wren’s actions. We never learn why she moved to this town, or what drew her there. When we finally see what she’s secretly been doing with all those letters, it only raises more questions — and by then, we’re not invested enough to care about the answers.

Film Review: 'Change in the Air'

Reviewed at Raleigh Studios, Los Angeles, Oct. 12, 2018. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 94 MIN.

Production: A Screen Media Films release and presentation of a Red Square Picture production, in association with M.Y.R.A. Entertainment, Fish Hook Media, Home Plate Pictures. Producers: Benjamin Cox. Executive producers: Dianne Dreyer, Audra Gorman, Margarethe Baillou, Allan Neuwirth.

Crew: Director: Dianne Dreyer. Writer: Audra Gorman. Camera (color): Jack Donnelly. Editor: Ian Blume. Music: Terry Adams, Bill Frisell.

With: Mary Beth Hurt, Aidan Quinn, Rachel Brosnahan, Peter Gerety, M. Emmet Walsh, Macy Gray, Olympia Dukakis, Satya Bhabha.

More Film

  • Michael B. JordanAFI Awards Luncheon, Los

    Michael B. Jordan's 'Just Mercy' Moves to Awards Season Slot

    Michael B. Jordan’s upcoming legal drama “Just Mercy” has been shifted forward three weeks from Jan. 17 to Dec. 25 for an Oscar-qualifying theatrical release. “Just Mercy” is based on the case of Walter McMillan, an African-American death-row prisoner who was exonerated in 1993 after being convicted five years earlier for a 1986 murder in [...]

  • Harry Styles to Play Prince Eric

    Harry Styles in Talks to Play Prince Eric in Disney's 'Little Mermaid'

    Harry Styles is going under the sea. The former One Direction frontman is in early negotiations to play Prince Eric in Disney’s live-action adaptation of “The Little Mermaid.” Halle Bailey will portray the Ariel, a mermaid princess who dreams of being a human, while Melissa McCarthy is playing her evil aunt Ursula. “The Little Mermaid” [...]

  • Stuber Movie

    Disney Left With a Slate of Film Flops After Fox Deal

    Is Disney having buyer’s remorse? The studio would be forgiven if it were having some regrets after absorbing 20th Century Fox, the company that once generated big box office with the likes of “Avatar,” “Life of Pi,” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.” After “Dark Phoenix” bombed earlier this summer, Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista’s action comedy “Stuber” [...]

  • Taika Waititi Returning to Direct 'Thor

    Taika Waititi to Direct Marvel's 'Thor 4'

    Taika Waititi is returning to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The filmmaker will write and direct the sequel to his 2017 blockbuster “Thor: Ragnarok.” Waititi’s take on the fourth “Thor” movie puts Warner Bros.’ long-in-development “Akira” adaptation on hold indefinitely. However, the studio hopes that “Akira” can get resume production with Waititi at the helm once [...]

  • Akira

    'Akira' Production Put on Hold by Warner Bros.

    Warner Bros. has put its long-in-development “Akira” adaptation on hold indefinitely, sources tell Variety. Sources indicate that after a brief delay, the studio has pulled the plug on production indefinitely for the classic anime adaptation, which was set to begin later this fall. “Thor: Ragnarok” helmer Taika Waititi was on board to direct, and the [...]

  • Sir Elton John, David Furnish. Sir

    New Elton John AIDS Foundation Gala to be Held in the South of France

    Elton John and David Furnish are launching a new gala for the Elton John AIDS Foundation. The two will host the inaugural A Midsummer Party benefit on July 24 in the south of France at the Johnny Pigozzi’s private estate, Villa Dorane, in Cap d’Antibes. A cocktail reception will be followed by dinner, a live [...]

  • Sebastian Maniscalco Green Book

    Sebastian Maniscalco Moves Into Movies With 'Green Book' and 'The Irishman'

    As a comedian whose routines not only lampoon Italian stereotypes but demand larger-than-life performances of those cultural peccadilloes, Sebastian Maniscalco has carefully — if inadvertently — created a niche for himself as an actor. In 2018, in between selling out shows at Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden, he took his first steps [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content