Matt Gerson on "Secrets and Lies"
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Secrets and Lies


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I’m Matt Gerson with four weepy, acting-charged, and politically correct Angles out of five for the Best Picture nominee, Golden Palm Cannes Festival winner Secrets and Lies, an exercise in contrived remake of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? meets last year’s A Family Thing, shamelessly delivered straight into the bosom and sensibilities for those left-brained orientated Academy members who voted for this soapy parade of cockeyed plot, unspoken guilt (for half the movie anyway), and hot-button issues shamelessly exploited for angst-ridden and theatrical effect, featuring interracial sudden kinship, hidden by the African and Caucasian peoples, so different—seemingly—but so much the same, with the same intensely uptight ethnic groups.

It’s a Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner meets A Family Thing clone, minus Robert Duvall, James Earl Jones, or Sidney Poitier and the class and elevation they give to movies, in this 90s sitcom-styled, stretched-out to two-and-a-half hours of wacky characters in search of a purpose, first half of Secrets and Lies, featuring TV formula characters doing their everyday thing pumped up with sorrows and closets full of hidden lies that we will have tossed into the air like Chinese firecrackers at a suitable moment by unerringly dumb and dizzyingly shallow and empty Cynthia, played by Brenda Bleffin [sp?], who blabs the talk of the parakeet and woe to anyone who gets in her way. Her impulse will have its day and fry the feelings of all in her path. This hysterical Hannah Hurricane of immaturity acted out her whole life lonely and miserable and alone, not surprisingly, and practically shunned by her brother Morris (Timothy Spall) [sp?], a rotund, bearded, sensitive fellow whose rapport with his photo subjects of his job is deep and sincere but who cannot fathom his pouting and selfish wife Monica (Phyllis Logan), scheming to materialistic blitz, cutting off hated sister-in-law Cynthia at every turn, for no doubt understandable, if greedy emotional and financial reasons, into this dysfunctional dance comes, out of the blue, the reason for being of this exceptionally well-acted farce, desperately trying to be exalted and to go straight, due to the needs of Mike Lay [sp?], writer and director.

Secrets and Lies is a working class sorry presentation of damaged children, like the party animal depressed drinker Roxanne, Cynthia’s daughter, soon to be joined by interracial half-sister, the sensitive but flatly written by Mike Lay [sp?], but acted with solemn sorrow by Mary Anne Jean Baptiste [sp?] as Hortense, as the catalyst, reluctantly performing the Sidney Poitier role to make the family look at her and then themselves, wondering what other possible Cynthia adventures and one-nighters could come, after she spills the beans of her one-night stand, and how they can survive the bombshell that makes the second half, after the intermission, pick up steam and become semi-dramatic and totally predictable, yet the acting is superb, but in my view the best film of the year this is not. Social drama comes not from device-ridden showpieces of stagy acting or the overwhelmingly banal characters here who do great jobs in their roles with endearing humor but lots of faults, as much as from the revelations from within and secrets disgorged that we get precious few minutes of in this movie, only frenzies of embarrassed agony piled upon us in the last few minutes of the movie. In general, they’re missing in Lay’s [sp?] stagy parade of boring after a while hard-to-understand accented and also endless bedroom and breakfast room dialogues of rage and resignation, endlessly stretched out for well over two-and-a-half hours, waiting for things to end the routine of the soon-to-be shown-to-be saintly brother Morris and his off-the-wall, despair and blabbermouth untracked, damaged goods and verbal brickbats sent unannounced and unwanted, courtesy of that sister Cynthia, and kooky daughter Roxanne, a lowlife in full bloom, an ice-maiden wife always making him miserable Monica.

Secrets and Lies makes us feel uncomfortable in its subject matter, both for the sweet Hortense and having to face living with this surfacy family as half-sister of any race. It picks up the guilt of John Sayles’s fine Lone Star without the history, the insights of scope and scale, and tragic generations handed down social tapestry of that film. But it exudes politically correct attitudes and funny and angry attitudes that Academy members felt was a perfect mix, for they made it one of the five nominated Best Picture films.

Sorry to say, only the acting is moving and important and savingly real, overcoming miraculously the pale tale and plot and mechanical exploitation of race vs. race, nearly elevating to somewhat high art a movie of dubious depth, if remarkable characterizations at times.

I’m Matt Gerson with four Angles out of five for Secrets and Lies


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What?!? No more Matt?
Then take me back to Deuce I guess.