Dir/scr: DanHarris. US. 2004. 112mins

The great soap opera of life is revisited once again in Imaginary Heroes,an entertaining but superficial tug at the heartstrings. The directorial debutof X-Men 2 screenwriter Dan Harris picks at the scabs of a family'semotional wounds to reveal a considerable collection of guilty secrets anddamaging deceptions.

Superioracting and polished production values help push the emotional buttons in a filmthat has affinities with Moonlight Mile and Life As A House butpales by comparison with 1980s landmarks like Ordinary People and TermsOf Endearment that set the benchmarks for this kind of soul-searchingbittersweet family psychodrama.

But despite thecalibre of the performances, it still feels like a weekly soap. The plotting ispredictable and the emotional truths a little trite as we head towards theequivalent of a group hug resolution. Its very American brand of sentimentalitymight well restrict its chances internationally.

Justlike Ordinary People, Imaginary Heroes uses the death of abeloved older son as the event that shatters the surface calm of a middle-classfamily. Here, it is the suicide of champion swimmer Matt Travis (Pardue) thatshrouds a family in grief and guilt as we follow their progress over the courseof a year.

Theunusually close bond between mother Sandy (Weaver) and younger son Tim (Hirsch)acts as a club to which overbearing father Ben (Daniels) has been deniedmembership. Over the year, Tim copes with the oppressive compassion of familyand friends, a car crash, a broken romance, questions over his sexuality andrevelations about his family.

Sandy driftsfurther away from Ben, seeking solace in misadventures and facing her ownhealth scare. It is only when some of the family's darkest secrets are broughtinto the open that they can finally start to find an honest way of dealing witheach other.

Inevitablysketchy, Imaginary Heroes risks overkill in trying to compress so manysignificant events into such a short time period and some characters receivemore attention than others. Daughter Penny (Williams) merely pops up forholidays and crises and Ben feels equally marginalised at times.

Theemphasis is firmly on the mother/son bond. Sandy is a woman whose bitterness isexpressed in caustic wit and righteous anger and Weaver plays her toperfection. She has an honesty and directness that cuts through thesentimentality and finds all the comic possibilities in her character,especially when Sandy faces the humiliation of being arrested for trying to buymarijuana or passes out stoned on the lawn.

Hirschis appealing as the damaged Tim, repressing his true feelings and concerns in away that has threatened to become a family tradition. There is a warm,convincing rapport between the two performers that gives the film its heart.

Prodco: ImaginaryHeroes
Int'l sales:
Signature Pictures International
Exec prods:
RudyCohen Jan Fantl Moshe Diamant
Art Linson,Frank Hubner, Gina Resnick, Denise Shaw, IllanaDiamant
Prod des:
DeborahLurie, John Ottman
Main cast:
SigourneyWeaver, Emile Hirsch, Jeff Daniels, Michelle Williams,. Kip Pardue