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  • TBC
  • Drama
  • 2007
  • 109 mins

The Girl In The Park

The Girl In The Park

Synopsis

A mother takes her time to come to terms with loss. Sigourney Weaver stars in playwright David Auburn's directorial debut

About

David Auburn is best known as a writer for the stage, but he also adapted his own multiple-award-winning play 'Proof' for the big screen in 2005, penned the screenplay for The Lake House (2006), and takes on director's as well as writer's duties for The Girl in the Park.

Fortunately for viewers, in his transition from stage to screen he has lost none of his dramatist's sensitivity to characterisation and dialogue, ensuring that this tale of maternity, mourning and madness is always subtly observed.

With her husband Doug (Rasche) and young son Chris out of the house for the day, jazz singer Julia Sandburg (Weaver) takes her three-year-old daughter Maggie down to the playground in Central Park. There, while Julia is distracted for no more than a few seconds, the little girl vanishes without trace.

Cut to 16 years later. Doug has remarried, a now adult Chris (Nivola) has become a successful builder and is himself about to get hitched to his pregnant girlfriend Celeste (Russell) - but Julia, alone unable to move on and fill the void left by her child's disappearance, leads an aimless, joyless existence, estranged from her family and withdrawn from all ordinary human intercourse.

Now working as a banker, she is relocated to her old turf in New York, and is drawn to a young woman whom she sees abandoned and weeping in a restaurant. This is Louise (Bosworth), a drifter, scam artist and compulsive liar - and Louise is as quick to see an easy mark in her new patroness as Julia is to recognise her long-lost Maggie in the free-spirited girl. Soon Louise has moved in to Julia's apartment, and the pair's relationship, rooted in mutual opportunism and desperation, begins to blossom into something that both is, and is not, a conventional mother-daughter relationship.

With its plot revolving around the apparent return of a person thought forever lost, and with its themes of grief, surrogacy, and renewal, The Girl In The Park is of a piece with Le Retour De Martin Guerre (1982), Olivier, Olivier (1992), Sommersby (1993) and Changeling (2008). Far, however, from being enslaved to his predecessors, Auburn simply assumes our familiarity with the general terrain, and so permits himself to approach the stock elements of his story in an oblique and delightfully understated way, with far less melodrama than the material might seem naturally to demand.

The question, for example, of whether Louise might really be Julia's daughter always simmers beneath the surface, investing everything with a tension that would not be out of place in a thriller - but at the same time Auburn is less interested in the answer itself than in the aching need that makes Julia introduce the question in the first place, so that its solution is both obvious from the start, and by the end is shown no longer to matter. Far more important is the reawakening of Julia's maternal drive, and of her former self, so that she can at last start constructing a new life from where she left off so many years before.

That all this is accomplished without a hint of mawkishness is down to the restraint of Auburn's script and to the exquisitely nuanced performance of Sigourney Weaver. She traces Julia's journey from contented mother to damaged human husk to maniacally giddy girl to contented mother again with a palpable self-awareness, and even humour, that make even her lowest points engaging to watch. As her friend, foil and finagler, Kate Bosworth does not miss a beat either, and together they have a chemistry that is almost sexual, adding yet another frisson to this oddest of relationships.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Brendan Sexton III, Elias Koteas, Keri Russell, Alessandro Nivola, David Rasche, Kate Bosworth, Sigourney Weaver, Joanna Gleason
  • Director: David Auburn
  • Screen Writer: David Auburn
  • Producer: Dale Rosenbloom, Sean Furst, Bryan Furst
  • Photographer: Stuart Dryburgh
  • Composer: Theodore Shapiro

In a nutshell

Wryly amusing, achingly poignant and pleasingly understated, with a stand-out performance from Weaver.

by Anton Bitel

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