Forgotten Friday Flick – “Away From Her”

Time to head down the awards road this week in search of some great lesser known films helmed by women (even my #1 film of 2017 The Lure was directed by female filmmaking force to be reckoned with Agnieszka Smoczynska!) – welcome to Forgotten Friday Flick.  Heading north to the home of some stellar Canadian cinema, today’s selection was the debut of a fabulous actress who decided to exercise her filmmaking chops.  Taking an inspiring short story and creating a layered and utterly emotional first feature, this one focuses on what all great films do – the characters. Proving true love for another knows no bounds, it’s impossible for a gent smitten to be…Away From Her.

Grant and Fiona Anderson are an old retired married couple who are enjoying their golden years.  Having been through a long life together with both ups (their love for one another is undying) and downs (Fiona has persevered even through Grant’s infidelity) they have settled into a quiet life of cross country skiing and clever conversation.  But suddenly Fiona begins to lose her memory and they discover that she’s suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.  But instead of staying at home Fiona decides she wants to be put into a nursing home and as such must spend the first thirty days sans Grant.  It’s a move that has serious repercussions on their future as husband and wife and one that tests how far each will go for the one they love.

Even being a first feature, Away From Her is a wonderfully crafted dramatic rollercoaster.  From the quiet moments of reflection to passionate outbursts of heartbreak, writer/director Sarah Polley never lets a minute of her affecting flick go to waste and the film wisely lives and thrives – both on-screen and on the page – in those unspoken moments between moments.  (Her layered adaptation of a short story got her a well deserved Oscar nod!)  It’s a critique that might seem a little lofty and highbrow, but when decent dramatic work is elevated by a strong sense of story and vision it’s hard not to get a tad deep.  Taking a page from the Atom Egoyan character dissection playbook (he worked with Polley previously as an actor on both Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter, plus served as Executive Producer on this one!), Polley doesn’t infuse a ton of distracting style or phony visual tricks (though her shots are incredibly picturesque!), but merely lets the camera linger like a fly on the wall so the audience becomes fully immersed in the characters’ plight. And being a well-rounded piece of work her film runs the emotional gamut – joy, humor, melancholy, heartbreak and sadness are all present and accounted for.

Though if Polley has a knack for picking and crafting a satisfying story, her eye for actors is even better.  Rounding out her cast with a barrage of believable and seasoned talents, Polley creates a master class in choosing the right artist for the job.  Gordon Pinset as the sad and sullen Grant, Michael Murphy as the quiet and curious Aubrey, Olympia Dukakis as the no nonsense Marian and Kristen Thomson as the wise beyond her years nurse Kristy all provide Polley with poignant pitch perfect performances.  But of course it’s the heartbreaking turn by the iconic lead Julie Christie that seals the five-star cinema deal here.  Playing a woman of strength and passion who is reduced to a shell of herself due to an unfair affliction and even more complicated relationship situation, Christie’s work is the heart and soul of Away From Her – an important movie muse for first-timer Polley if ever there was one.

Thankfully, Polley never lost her skills and desire to work behind the camera.  Her next film Take This Waltz was a fine follow up and the doc Stories We Tell was a clever and candid tale of twists and turns in her own life.  And while Polley continues to do solid work as an actor, I’m always excited to see a film helmed by her.  Creating a real world with complex emotions and characters we care about has become a Polley staple – and cinema is better because of it.



I'm a passionate and opinionated film critic/movie journalist with over 20 years of experience in writing about film - now exclusively for WhySoBlu.com. Previous sites include nine years at Starpulse.com where I created Forgotten Friday Flick back in 2011, before that as Senior Entertainment Editor for The213.net and 213 Magazine, as well as a staff writer for JoBlo.com. My other love is doing cool events for the regular guy with my company Flicks For Fans alongside my friend, partner and Joblo.com writer James "Jimmy O" Oster. Check us out at www.Facebook.com/FlicksForFans.

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