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Review: Imaginary Heroes

Imaginary Heroes is a queer-eyed valentine to Sigourney Weaver.

Imaginary Heroes
Photo: Sony Pictures Classics

Writer-director Dan Harris’s Imaginary Heroes is a queer-eyed valentine to Sigourney Weaver. As Sandy Travis, matriarch of a dysfunctional family dealing with the suicide of a sibling, Weaver finds the poetry and pathos of a stock characterization; she’s an actress equally at home playing a lithe, dyke-friendly alien/human hybrid or the coolest, Mary Jane-toking mama a gay boy (n)ever had. Harris (co-author of X-Men 2, that downright odd, rainbow-colored ode to ostracized superheroes) is lucky to have Weaver and he knows it—her presence makes complex emotional mincemeat out of Harris’s head-slappingly pat dramaturgy. Weaver wrings truth out of every sequence, no matter the contrivances: the pièce de résistance is Sandy’s intense, alcohol-inspired confrontation with a white-trash bully who’s been torturing her “maybe-he-is/maybe-he-isn’t, we’ll never tell” son Tim (Emile Hirsch). Harris’s compositions are awkward—the bully and his couch-potato mother are lost in a neophyte director’s static, meaningless deep focus—but Weaver uses the spacial infelicities to her advantage, navigating Sandy’s frustrations and accusations with enviable ease. She seems to grow taller with each passing moment, the quintessential image of a mama bear scorned. Emotions exhausted, Weaver exits the scene, sighing out a punchline (“Nice trailer!”) before flawlessly executing a projectile-vomit topper. Not only a two-minute master class in acting, this sequence also struck a personal chord, reminding me of a family story about a beloved headstrong aunt who, told that her child had been unfairly treated by the school principal, calmly crouched outside the man’s office and creamed him in the face with a pie. I’m told the guy ran for his bloody life and until Imaginary Heroes I could only guess at the perverse mixture of fury and satisfaction my aunt must have felt in that moment. Movies, perhaps more than any art, can cast profound, epiphanic illumination on our personal histories, and Weaver’s performance—clearly a cinematic paean to a mythologically perfect lioness—captures something of every mother’s deep-felt agony and ecstasy, that gnawing, loving need to protect their children, at whatever cost, from any and all of life’s inevitable hurts.

Cast: Emile Hirsch, Sigourney Weaver, Jeff Daniels, Michelle Williams, Kip Pardue, Deirdre O'Connell, Ryan Donowho, Suzanne Santo Director: Dan Harris Screenwriter: Dan Harris Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics Running Time: 112 min Rating: R Year: 2004 Buy: Video, Soundtrack

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