An Unfinished Movie

 

An Unfinished Life (2005) Review 5
Director:Lasse Hallstrom,
Starring:Jennifer Lopez,, Robert Redford, and Morgan Freeman
Length:107 minutes
Rated:PG-13

 

 

Jennifer Lopez carries a lot of baggage these days, and no, I’m not talking about the type of baggage that tends to fill out the bottom portion of her form-fitting outfits…

I am, of course, referring to the baggage that she’s accumulated over the years while gracing the pages of tabloid rags like Star Magazine and US Weekly. Though the heavy madness has (thankfully) died down since the manic heyday of “Bennifer,” she’s gotten to the point where she’s become more famous for her seemingly high-maintenance lifestyle than for the films she’s graced her presence with.

Not that any of her recent movies have been very good – in fact, she hasn’t made a truly great movie since 1998’s “Out of Sight” – but it still means that a larger-than-life personality like Lopez has to work harder to lend an air of credibility to her performances. I don’t know about you, but I for one did not buy her for a New York minute as a frumpy hotel maid in 2002’s “Maid in Manhattan,” and I certainly didn’t buy her as a lonely dog walker in this summer’s modest comedy hit “Monster-in-Law.”

Unfortunately, the same can also be said about Lopez’s performance as a widowed mother on the run in director Lasse Hallstrom’s latest drama, “An Unfinished Life.” Every effort is made to make Lopez look more glamorous than she deserves to be under the circumstances, though in the end, that is the least of the film’s problems. Contrived, clichéd and manipulative in the extreme, “An Unfinished Life” will most likely have a short life at the box office before making a quick trip to DVD.

Lopez plays Jean Gilkyson, a single widow who escapes from the clutches of her abusive boyfriend (Damian Lewis) to the only place she can go – the run-down Wyoming farm of her crusty father-in-law, Einar (Robert Redford). Still bitter over the accidental death of his son (and her late husband), Einar makes life difficult for Jill while caring for his trusted friend Mitch (Morgan Freeman), who was mauled after an encounter with a grizzly bear. When Jill gets a job at the local diner to get back on her feet, her young daughter Griff (Becca Gardner) learns about life on the farm from Einar, who soon learns to forgive the hardships of the past and cherish the life that he has left.

On a purely visual scale, “An Unfinished Life” is blessed with the same level of mood-setting, picturesque production values that graced many of Hallstrom’s more recent films – specifically “The Cider House Rules,” “Chocolat” and “The Shipping News.” Unfortunately, it’s also predictable and contrived, as many of the story’s emotional turns just don’t ring true. And if certain subplots feel like you’ve seen them before, then that’s because you have – Lopez was on the receiving end of an abusive relationship in 2002’s “Enough,” while Morgan Freeman has played the wise, even-tempered voice of reason before in…well, just about every movie he’s made over the past decade.

“An Unfinished Life” also suffers from a bit of miscasting, as Robert Redford seems to struggle as the grieving, bitter father-in-law – a role that would have been perfect for someone more grizzled like Clint Eastwood. Redford’s not bad, and he seems to be comfortable with certain character traits that fit his real-life country living lifestyle, but he fails to make it resonate on a more convincing level. Otherwise, supporting cast members make do with what they’re given, particularly Josh Lucas as the sheriff who takes a liking to Lopez and Camryn Manheim, who shows Lopez the ropes at the local diner.

“An Unfinished Life” was originally scheduled to open during the awards season crunch back in December, but Miramax (which is about a month away from losing its founding members Harvey and Bob Weinstein) decided to push it back to the early fall. Given that it comes up short of its awards-caliber intentions, it was probably a good move. And maybe this will give Jennifer Lopez the time she needs to shed some more of that extra baggage so she can be appreciated for the truly great performance that she is certainly capable of giving.