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Grief gets a character study in ‘Five Nights in Maine’


Coming to terms with grief is often complicated by unresolved, preexisting conditions between the survivor and the decedent. For the movie “Five Nights in Maine,” available on Video on Demand, the loving relationship between Fiona (Hani Furstenberg) and her husband Sherwin (David Oyelowo) is interrupted by her sudden death coming back from a visit to her cancer-ridden mother.

Plans for a long-term life commitment that may or not include children (revealed via flashbacks) are irrevocably dashed as Sherwin slips into the time-honored bereavement clichés of alcoholism, encapsulation, hypersomnia (over sleeping), isolation, and overall antisocial behavior. Plucked from this morass of self-pity by his sister (“Chi-Raq’s” Teyonah Parris), he embarks upon a trip to rural Maine to connect with his mother-in-law Lucinda (double Oscar winner Dianne Wiest), whose terminal illness is complicated by the sorrow of losing her only child.

Sickness and bereavement not-with-standing, visiting Lucinda is no “day at the beach” in the best of times, because her disconnect with the now deceased Fiona hangs over her house like a funeral shroud. Her nurse Ann (Rosie Perez) strives to make her comfortable in her final days, while Lucinda simply marginalizes her as the “paid help” (Perez, like Parris, is wasted in an under-written part).

Ann and Sherwin may just be the only persons of color in this part of New England, as the trio wanders around the house in artificial conformity, careful not to acknowledge the elephant in the room (Lucinda’s lingering resentment over Fiona’s choice of a marriage partner). A basic tenet of therapy holds that disclosure, and in turn honesty, is essential to the healing process (i.e., the first step in solving a problem is admitting that there is one. That people regularly avoid such confrontation is often justified by the notion that doing so means enduring additional pain in order to “get well.”

Ironically, Lucinda and Sherwin’s refusal to acknowledge their mutual emotions of abandonment and survivor’s guilt are simultaneously the factors that prevent them from reconciling their differences. Sherwin harbors the unstated resentment that Lucinda intended to undermine his marriage from the beginning, while Lucinda struggles with the realization that her own shortcomings as a parent contributed to her daughter’s issues as an adult.

Compounding this is the reality that Fiona and Lucinda endured years of estrangement before their unsuccessful reunion and the car accident that killed her.

For this, her directing debut, Maris Curran assembled a dream cast of superb actors. It is a tribute to the talents of Oyelowe and Weist that they are able to find depth in this interaction between two oppositional characters hell-bent on avoiding finding any common ground, and resolving the issues that divide them. A more seasoned director might have fashioned a more compelling narrative and satisfying ending, but in this outing “Five Nights in Maine” settles for merely being a venue for world-class performers to exercise their acting chops.

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