Synopsis: A young widower sidesteps grief, loss, and familial dysfunction when he steals his wife’s ashes and sets off on an impulsive odyssey through America’s heartland to find something he’d lost long before her death.
Stars: David Sullivan, Marguerite Moreau, Javier Muñoz, Paulina Olszynski, Shunori Ramanathan, Kathy Scambiatterra
Director: Jack C. Newell
Running Length: 94 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: It’s too late to keep you from knowing what Monuments is about and that’s too bad considering what happens in the first ten minutes of the film. If there’s a movie that would benefit from you just walking in blind, this would be it. Why’s that, you ask? I think that would make an already special movie that much more of a treat because for once there’s something interesting going on in the script from director Jack C. Newell, based on a story by Rebecca Fons. Like Ride the Eagle last week, there’s an element of unpredictability to Monuments that keeps you focused and engaged throughout, leaving you more than willing to go along with whatever wildness is thrown at you for 90-ish minutes. And it’s wild. And it has heart. And it’s funny on top of it all.
So…I’m title dropping like mad already here but in my review of Joe Bell two weeks back I mentioned that I’m often on the fence about the “deceased loved one” character showing up in movies because it can often be an easy way out of a narrative dead end. In Joe Bell, much of that true story centered on a main character who was on a solo walk, so the screenwriters used the man’s dead son as a conversation starter and a way to go back in time to reveal plot points. With Monuments, we never know quite how long Laura Daniels (Marguerite Moreau) has been appearing to her grieving husband Ted (David Sullivan, Argo) but she’s absolutely integral to the developing plot and central to the action unfolding.
In the modest Colorado town where they both were college professors; Ted is having trouble coming to terms with the death of his wife. Recently reconciled, her tragic death left Ted with some wounds unresolved and so he carries around Laura’s ashes everywhere he goes, unable to let her fully go. This doesn’t sit well with her kooky relatives who want to spread her ashes with their other kin on family land…if only stubborn Ted would relinquish the urn. Finally, they resort to enlisting Howl (Javier Muñoz), the man that had loved Laura but could never have her, to steal the ashes from Ted who now plans to spread them in a museum in Chicago. No sooner does Howl get the ashes before Ted steals them back and goes on the lam toward Chicago, with Laura’s relatives, Howl, and a number of other eccentrics in hot pursuit.
Movies like Monuments are all about tone and if the dial had been turned just a few more inches to the right on the wacky meter, the film would have gone glib with its comedy and then it would have been an outright disaster. Instead, there’s enough pause for reflection and sweet moments between Ted and the ghost of Laura to reflect back on their good times as well as their struggle to paint a picture of the life and love that was lost. Amidst all the crazy shenanigans that go on, such as Ted evading Howl by hitching a ride with a trio of harmonizing hippies, there’s a warmth that grows on an even keel throughout. Strong performances from Sullivan and Moreau help make those genuine moments felt all the more deeply and Muñoz takes what could be your standard rejected lover role and gives it a nice adjustment so that you don’t want him to win but you don’t want to see him humiliated either.
Even a smaller budget can’t sink this one and there’s an abundance of “going the extra mile” effort on display in Monuments. The eclectic score from Nick Takénobu Ogawa was perfectly in line with the mood of the piece, the cinematography by Stephanie Dufford was lovely, and while the supporting cast can get a little widespread at times, they’re all clearly defined by a talented cast. I wouldn’t go so far to say Monuments is a hidden gem waiting to get uncovered but it’s one of those worthwhile watches you’ll take a chance on and be glad you devoted time to.