Updated: Nov 19, 2020
A woman contracts an unusual condition that causes her to rise gradually into the air, as her husband and daughter struggle to cope.
When presented with a premise that involves a condition causing a person to slowly lift off the ground, you might expect a certain amount of irreverence or a running theme of equally audacious concepts to support the central conceit. Instead, the story we get is the furthest thing from irreverent. In fact, everything surrounding the fantastical premise is poignantly familiar.
Centring on a typical suburban family, held together by matriarch Sarah (an absolutely on top of her game Olivia Colman), we are introduced to a home and family dynamic that just about all of us have lived in. Everything from moody teen to the mother that runs the house with precision, often going unnoticed. And just as in the real world, where an upset stomach or back pain or a headache unknowingly heralds the end of life as we know it, so too does Sarah’s family’s life change forever. In this case, Sarah becomes stuck in one spot but finds herself suspended just off the ground, the starting point of what will become a slow but seemingly unstoppable journey upwards.
There is a starkness to the feel of this film, as the condition itself is the only thing that is allegorical. Additionally, the nature of Sarah’s condition gives rise to scenarios that are vaguely comedic. This is until the reality of where this is all leading sets in, at which point almost every narrative and character aspect of the film paints an all too recognisable picture of a family fighting a soul-crushing inevitability that seems too fantastical to be true.
The emotional turmoil that comes along with the developments and realisations of Sarah’s illness manifest most visibly in Sarah’s husband Dave (Shaun Dooley) and daughter Carly (Chelsea Corfield), as they zig-zag almost uncontrollably through denial, suppression, depression and rage. Throughout this process Sarah does her best to hold the family together, whilst simultaneously being powerless to affect the changing situation around her.
The heartrending tumult of their combined story can only be accomplished by incredible performances, which our three central actors provide and then some. Your heart breaks as you see the desperation and fear behind Dave’s anger. Carly’s suppressed devastation pushes you to, in turns, desperately want to soothe her pain and virtually scream at her to engage and connect, underscoring the emotional complexity of living with a loved one with a progressive illness. It eschews the notion of there being a logical or acceptable way of coping with harsh and unfair realities, not flinching from the truth but not casting judgement for trying to hold onto things in your life despite having no ultimate control over the outcome.
Perhaps the most powerful aspect of this film is how well it does normalcy. For the majority of the film there are no jaw dropping moments of obvious artistic or technical wizardry. Ironically, this is a hallmark of top-class film craft. While the cinematography, set design, soundtrack and various other elements of the filmmaking process go out of their way not to take centre stage, it is worth pointing out how impressive they are by their innocuous presentation. Each element not only assists but elevates the storytelling. Be it, the gradual disarray of the house as Sarah becomes unable to handle it herself or the muted/neutral colouring of the picture, which stands in contrast to the overwhelming spectrum of colours that occurs in a key scene, every piece of this film is thoughtful and deliberate. Thus, allowing the story to be delivered both with maximum impact and with a graceful intimacy.
Being able to present genuine moments of frustration, desperation, love and fear so plainly and honestly without shedding the mundane situations in which they occur imbues those moments with powerful meaning, more so than any impassioned performance or beautifully lensed shot ever could. In doing so, the film wonderfully captures the little things that become the landmarks of what is special in our lives. Rather than the big grand gestures, it is the easily overlooked, often annoying things we miss when they are no longer there.
It would also be criminal not to end this review without highlighting its MVP in Olivia Colman. To say that she emotionally anchors the film and keeps its premise grounded (no pun intended) would be to grossly understate the sheer power of her nuanced and extraordinarily sincere performance. Colman embodies a light-hearted and quietly passionate soul whose embarrassing parent antics endear her to us within seconds of her appearing on screen. We only need to see her in her element for under two minutes before the plot kicks in, to understand that she is the rock upon which the family is built. Her understated yet very visible resolve to hold everybody up even as things continue to deteriorate manifests in the most tender of smiles and the sharpest of rebukes. Colman elevates already very strong material on the page from Oscar Sharp and writer Dawn King, while simultaneously giving Dooley and Corfield a foundation on which to build incredible performances of their own, making it impossible not to imprint our own loved ones onto the very real characters that the film presents.
This is by no means an easy watch, nor should it be. It is impossible to hide what must have been the very personal motivations behind this film, but at the same time it avoids preaching or judgement. Instead Oscar Sharp, cast and crew opt to provide an empathetic lived experience, resulting in a bittersweet catharsis. Although this film was released in 2014, the world we now find ourselves in gives the subject matter so much more weight. But despite the demands that this film places on your emotional resilience, it is ultimately a journey you are glad to have been on. An experience that is simply “wunderbar”.
Studio: Fortune Films/BFI/Virgin Media Films | Year: 2014 | Genre: Drama/Fantasy | Duration: 25 Mins | Suitability: Mature
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