“Stunning” is a good word to describe Vadim Perelman’s sophomore effort, the ethereal drama The Life Before Her Eyes. Evan Rachel Wood is stunningly beautiful, her blue eyes are shockingly magnetic and her lithe body and creamy skin are demanding enough to make this reviewer use words like “lithe” and “creamy.” The cinematography and blossoming production design are also stunning and engaging. Unfortunately, stunning also describes the mediocre performance that Uma Thurman turns in as the adult incarnation of Wood’s character, Diana, as well as the plodding story and the extent to which plot twists are predictable.
*Moderate Spoilers Ahead*
The film begins with Wood as the 16 year old Diana. Gorgeous. Rebellious. Young. Carefree. Confused. She makes a fast and fierce friend in Eva Amurri’s Maureen and the pair traipse through their lives. However, we are quickly confronted with the biggest crisis of their young lives when one of their classmates brings a gun to school and opens fire. The pair are alone in the girl’s room when he bursts in and demands to know which one of them he should kill. 15 years later, Diana is grown with a young daughter named Emma and a devoted husband who is a professor at the local college. She is living an idyllic life, teaching art history to high schoolers, but still tormented by memories of that day. The rest of the film cuts between Diana’s two lives: growing up with Maureen, heartbreak, clandestine trips to a private pool, biology exams and the forward to struggles with Emma’s own incorrigible behavior, frustrations with her husband and late night indulgences in guilt at what might have been.
Though the dramatic implications of a school shooting are compelling, to be sure, Perelman stylizes the film too much. We are faced with Diana and Maureen in the girl’s room no less than 5 times until we know what truly happened. As if there were some chance that we forgot the main plot point. The only plot point. This kind of patronizing repetition serves no purpose except to drag out the story for the great conclusion that you can see coming from a mile away. The script, adapted by Emil Stern from a novel by Laura Kasischke, doesn’t help matters. Though Wood and Amurri are both enchanting, it is because of something, ironically, behind their eyes, not because of their trite teen dialogue and rehashed situations. Diana could be a truly dynamic and engaging character, if only the mediocrity that surrounded her didn’t drag her down like so much dead weight.