Movie Review: “Among Ravens” Falls Short of “The Big Chill”


Review by James McDonald

The story of a group of friends who reunite for their annual 4th of July weekend only to be confronted by Chad, a strange and beautiful nature photographer who begins to change their lives one by one.

Every generation pays homage to “The Big Chill”. Why? Because it was a terrific film with first-class performances, a top-notch script and deft direction by Lawrence Kasdan. The story was about a group of seven friends who gather for a weekend reunion after the death of one of their college friends. In 1992, Kenneth Branagh took a stab at it with the near-perfect seldom-seen “Peter’s Friends” and managed to line up an all-star cast including himself, his then wife Emma Thompson, Steven Fry, Hugh Laurie, Rita Rudner and Imelda Staunton. Why is this particular storyline so intriguing? One word: drama. When you’re dealing with a large ensemble cast, you have the opportunity to create a dynamic and engaging movie full of differing characters and transformable and unpredictable narratives.

I was really looking forward to viewing “Among Ravens”, a film about a group of friends who reunite every year, for the 4th of July weekend. Just like “The Big Chill” and “Peter’s Friends”, it is a story about friendship and the ups and downs we all experience as a result, just like any relationship. I so badly wanted to like this movie but the reason I couldn’t connect with the story or, most importantly, the characters, was because the drama that unfolds throughout, is simply drama for drama’s sake. Instead of concentrating on a particular character or story arc, we are saturated with unnecessary drama and it only gets worse as the film plays on. Amy Smart is a beautiful and talented actress and out of this entire accumulation of actors, she is the most well-known.

Try as she does to give an authentic portrayal of a woman in a dead-end marriage who longs for something more, unfortunately, because of the relentless melodrama and extraneous character exposition, she is reduced to being an indie movie cliché. Ms. Smart plays Wendy, a housewife married to Ellis (Joshua Leonard), a business entrepreneur who has a daughter, Joey (Johnny Sequoyah) from a previous marriage to Saul (Russell Friedenberg). He is married to Emma (Victoria Smurfit) and is a very wealthy novelist. Then we have Hal (Calum Grant) and his hippie girlfriend Saturn (Castille Landon) who wants to have sex with anything that moves and we are expected to believe that this hugely diverse group of characters, are best friends.


Add to the mix, a new character, Chad (Will McCormack) who is apparently a simple man with a love for birds. He is dropped off at the house by one of the group’s friends while he has to leave town for a few days. Because of the turmoil going on in everybody’s lives, the intent was obviously going to have this simple man interact with everyone and turn their lives around. Granted, that does happen near the end of the movie but by then, we are so fed up with the constant shouting and screaming and over-dramatics that it just doesn’t have the desired effect it set out to achieve. He becomes friends with Joey, Wendy’s preteen daughter and immediately, the relationship is evocative of “Sling Blade” but it was used to much greater effect in that movie.

Instead of letting the story flow smoothly, the filmmakers thought it a good idea to have an obstacle face each of the characters and just when it looks like they’ve overcome that hindrance, another one is thrown at them and this becomes the process for the entire movie. We are never given any breathing room, to allow adequate character development so that we can come to care about these people, rather, we are thrown headfirst, into an assemblage of characters and very quickly, we realize that we don’t care about them and we most certainly do not want to spend the entire weekend with them. At one point, we find out that Saul has never written a book in his life, he’s been paying a ghost writer to create these stories and he then pays him to keep quiet.

When his wife tells him that she’s had enough of his lying and wants a divorce, he proceeds to tell her that he never loved her and then makes his way back to Wendy, his ex and because he is obviously so emotionally distraught, he asks her if he can fuck her because he knows that will make him feel better. He doesn’t ask if they can be intimate, or even make love, he says he wants to “fuck her” and only then will he be able to get on with his life. This is a man with no soul who by the end of the movie, miraculously has a change of heart because kindly Chad interacts with him and makes him see the errors of his way. For some people, there is no redemption, that’s just the way life is but what’s worse is when an irredeemable character is suddenly reformed with just the slightest synergy from someone kind, that, is just unacceptable and for the simple reason, it is totally preposterous and not in the least believable.

In theaters July 18th

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James McDonald
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