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Sandy Mitchell

"Beautiful Ohio"

By April 15, 2007

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What happens in families when one sibling so overshadows another, be it due to genius, bad behavior, or a mix of both? In this coming of age film, set in Shaker Heights in the 1970's, two brothers grow apart as the elder's math abilities eclipse all other matters in the Messerman household.

Set in Shaker Heights
Beautiful Ohio, Dayton native Chad Lowe's directorial debut, has a wonderful premise. Unfortunately, it takes a swift swerve left near the end, resonating more as movie-of-the-week than compelling, mature drama.

Younger brother William (Brett Davern) envies, emulates, and idolizes his brother Clive (a stunning David Call in his first feature role). When Clive begins creating a "secret language" and sharing it only with his best friend, getting into trouble and questioning his parents' lives, William's world starts to shatter.

Brothers and Sisters
When Clive's mysterious girlfriend Sandra (a provocative Michelle Trachtenberg) seeks hidden shelter in the Messerman's basement, William finds himself beginning to fall for her.

I can't stress enough how wonderful some of the dialogue is. William Hurt and Rita Wilson shine as the Messerman parents: overly-permissive to a degree but educated and concerned about both their sons' well-being. However, none of the characters are complex and multi-dimensional enough for an audience connection. We care about their plights, but only superficially. Given low dramatic tension throughout, the film just doesn't provide adequate reason to invest. Hence, the profound secret revealed very near the end rings both false and shifts the tenor of the film too sharply.

Juliana Margulies does much with a very small role as the sexy neighbor Mrs. Cubano. Yet her character is never fleshed-out. Viewers are left to wonder if her story became part of the cutting room floor or she is merely included as distraction. Again, weak storytelling.

Misses the Mark
Shame, that. With such amazing performances from the five main characters, excellent dialogue and beautiful cinematography, Beautiful Ohio should have been much greater than the sum of its parts. Why it falls flat is anyone's guess; my money's on the weak plot and poor storytelling.

While it was wonderful to see shots in and around Cleveland, I was sorry to see Chad Lowe couldn't attend the recent Cleveland International Film Festival, where the film was screened. He was on hand last October for a screening at the Cleveland Institute of Art, however.

The film is based on Ethan Canin's original short story Batorsag & Szerelem. Partially the problem, perhaps. Short stories seldom carry enough heft and depth to create good feature-length films. Still, Lowe's directorial debut shows serious promise. Hopefully we'll see more behind the camera work from the talented Ohioan.

by Anne Price


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