A chance encounter changes lives and re-defines relationships in The Waiting Room, a mawkish, low-key ensemble piece that marks the debut feature of writer/director Roger Goldby. Stray moments of touching emotion and accomplished lead performances are some compensation for a central premise that is hard to swallow and a succession of characters who seem to be wallowing in dreary, miserable lives. Downbeat nature of the material and the lack of box-office draws in the cast will define the commercial prospects for a film that will prove a tough sell theatrically but may fare better in ancillary markets.
Goldby is an experienced television director and was Oscar-nominated for his 1997 short It's Good To Talk. Anne-Marie Duff and Ralf Little are both highly respected television actors on the cusp of screen stardom but the combination of these talents underlines the TV-style nature of The Waiting Room.
A single mother, Anna (Duff) is going though the motions of an affair with next door neighbour George (Graves), a married man in search of a little adventure. One day at a railway station, she meets care assistant Stephen (Little) and they share a brief moment that creates enough of a connection to convince both of them of love at first sight. Although they remain apart for the majority of the film, the aftershocks of their meeting are felt as Stephen starts to question the durability of his relationship with Fiona (Bottomley) and Anna is prompted to re-evaluate her shabby liaison with George and put her life in order.
Duff and Little both have such charm and screen presence that they keep you involved in The Waiting Room even as it moves towards a predictable conclusion. The problem is the constant striving for a weight and poignancy that the story cannot support. Goldby seems to be trying to emulate Krzysztof Kieslowski in stressing the role of fate in human existence and the unexpected connections that unite random lives. Unfortunately many of the supporting characters are not that engaging (Graves' errant husband is especially creepy), the overstated musical score constantly tugs at the heartstrings and the use of odd fantasy moments is confusing rather than illuminating.
Goldby does write some sharp scenes, especially when Anna finally challenges George, and secures good performances from a cast that also includes nursing home residents Helen played by Phyllida Law and incorrigible romantic and matchmaker Roger played with a twinkle by Frank Finlay. Random scenes and pleasurable performances just don't coalesce into the kind of movie that incurable romantics can clutch to their hearts.
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