Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Orphan (2009)

     What if Dale Midkiff had been placed on Valium of barbiturates on the set of Pet Semetary (1989)?  Would he have given the same performance that Peter Sarsgaard did in Orphan (2009)?  I don't think this needs to be mentioned, but it is the question I kept asking myself during the overlong film.  Sure, I also could have been asking how Vera Farmiga went from a virtual unknown (read: I didn't watch the various television shows on which she was a regular) to seemingly being a top choice for a female lead from 2006-2009.  I guess the story didn't involve me enough to distract me from wondering about the actors themselves.
     As for the story, I had more questions than those related to the plot (largely because I already knew how it would play out).  Why, I wondered, make the natural daughter Max (Aryana Engineer) deaf?  It added no worthwhile element to the story – in fact, it was another complication in the seemingly impossible lives of the Colemans – other than to let the actors fumble through some ASL.  It turns out that Engineer is hearing impaired, so the question becomes, was Max effectively deaf because of the actor portraying the role?  Why did nobody throw around the accusation that Kate's (Farmiga) habitual drinking may have led to the condition?
     Why so many problems in the Coleman family?  There is the alcoholism of Kate.  John (Sarsgaard) had an affair.  Max nearly died in the back yard.  Kate birthed a dead baby.  Daniel (Jimmy Bennett) is working his way towards a Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  John's mother hates and belittles Kate with what few opportunities she is given to do so.  We get almost all of this before the problematic titular orphan enters the story.
Sure, side by side, they look pretty different.  But Sarsgaard sure seemed to be channeling his inner Midkiff for most of Orphan.  John Coleman certainly has a much nicer house in Connecticut than Louis Creed did in Maine.
     There are some other obvious problems.  A couple that is adjusting to the stillbirth of a child are apparently fast tracked for adoption; it pays to be upper middle-class, white, and be willing to take on an older child.  But not only does there seem to be no evaluation as to the fitness of the Colemans as parents (drinking problem, child neglect, oldest working towards a Conduct Disorder diagnosis), there is no interaction between the child to be adopted and the children with whom she will be living.  The child is handed over without any type of medical examination (sure hope your Eastern European adoptee doesn't have any diseases or viruses that could put the other children at risk).  Oh, and everyone except for Max and Ester (Isabelle Fuhrman) – the orphan – is an idiot.
     I picked this up because I felt it had been too long since I opined about any kind of genre film.  Orphan isn't horror; it is more like a poor successor to The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (1992).  Speaking of that film, does anyone remember when Julianne Moore was thought of as a candidate for minor roles?  It is like seeing Annette Bening in The Great Outdoors (1988).  But back to some kind of point.  My hope was that Orphan would offer some kind of meaningful story structure to explain how Esther would go from nice, if strange, new arrival in the house to terror bent on destroying everyone.  That is not what I got.  Orphan plods along, doesn't worry about keeping characters consistent, or worrying if there is any kind of back-story overload that will kill any investment in the characters.
     If the movie had been shortened by 25-30 minutes and some effort was made to explain the obvious problems with how the child wasn't vetted at all, maybe Orphan would have worked as a fun little thriller.  It wasn't, though.  And I have to add it to Source Code (2011) as examples of how Farmiga should not be asked to carry a scene or emote on cue.

1 comment:

  1. You're right! Despite what they explain, we never REALLY learn why she's crazy. Good review!