Reign Over Me is a post-911 film without any political message and is Adam Sandler’s one crowning achievement after The Wedding Singer.
First, the Sandler-factor:
Yes, Adam Sandler is in this movie; yes, he does a good job. His character, Charlie Fineman, is played like many of those in Sandler’s repertoire who are meek on the outside, but horribly violent just below the surface (Punch-Drunk Love, Water Boy, Happy Gilmore). However, Charlie’s violence is tempered by his suffering. He is not strong or powerful, he is still meek, therefore his anger does little for him.
One of the things Sandler lost in his ill-gotten fame was humility. Certainly, playing characters that are more naïve or struggling with their love lives or making rent are much more sympathetic than the hardened and perverse a**holes we see in Big Daddy, Longest Yard, Grown-Ups, etc.
And while the material is strong, many scenes (on-paper) feature Charlie as someone who is borderline bi-polar in his moods, shifting from furious resentment to genuine affection. It’s Sandler who manages to make these mood swings transition smoothly. His actions may be erratic, but his longing to connect with someone is consistent, so whenever the opportunity to connect arises, it overrides his anger.
The story is about two men who went to dental school as college roommates: Charlie Fineman and Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle). They haven’t spoken since, but Alan bumps into Charlie one day, only to find him estranged and weary. Of course, this leads Alan to pry deeper and deeper until the two finally start to rekindle their friendship: they play video games, watch moves, jam on guitar and drums, etc.
Of course, Alan uses Charlie as an escape since he is having problems at work with a potential sexual harassment lawsuit and his nagging wife and family are making him feel emasculated, so Alan sees great appeal in Charlie’s lifestyle since he’s unencumbered by responsibilities.
As Alan learns however, Charlie is not a free spirit by choice. His family died in a plane crash (wife, three daughters, even their puppy) and while the life insurance payout was huge, it left Charlie without purpose, so he regresses into a more childlike state. Because money isn’t an object, Charlie finds value in the recreational, albeit, superficial joys. Rather than resort to drugs – which would be out of character for a father and husband – Charlie becomes an entertainment junkie.
As Alan discovers how wounded Charlie is, he realizes that he’s only encouraging Charlie’s escapism. It’s by trying to help Charlie that Alan gains clarity in his own life and opens up to his wife’s perspective and reevaluates his priorities.
This is a great film. It’s effective and heart-warming and easily makes my top 5.
Of course, the fact that this movie was written and directed by the same person (Mike Binder) doesn’t hurt, and shows why auteurs can exist in film. There’s a genuine understanding of these characters and everything from the distant, memory-inspiring music, to the wardrobes and color palettes in each characters’ respective homes works. Even the overarching themes from Shadows of the Colossus (a PlayStation 2 video game) that Charlie plays fits with the story.
And while the insurmountable tragedy in this movie is utterly palpable throughout the whole film, it is one of the few movies out there that works as a Dramedy. With a movie like Reign Over Me, you need the funny just to make it watchable and Binder does so in an organic and charming way; in fact, this is one of the funnier films I’ve seen and it definitely pays off in the end – it is a feel-good movie.
In fact, I consider this movie near perfect with one problem: Liv Tyler. I have nothing against Ms. Tyler but she’s not believable as a psychologist (therapist?). She just kinda sits there and asks open-ended questions. It’s mainly the scenes in her office when she’s working with Charlie that are genuinely unbearable since they go nowhere. It leads me to believe Mike Binder didn’t research or experience how therapy sessions work. It doesn’t ruin the movie, but even with her sparse scenes before meeting Charlie, there’s enough time dedicated for it to not simply be a catalyst for Charlie’s eventual confession to Alan. She’s just kinda there.
So… Why is this movie a Post 9/11 film?
There’s no mention of 9/11, but there is one line dedicated to 9/12 which is the only indicator that it is a post 9/11 film. Honestly, I think that’s the part I liked most about it.
9/11 is a tough thing to comprehend, regardless of how old you were when it happened. For me, I didn’t have friends that died and I wasn’t living in New York. It would have had all the emotional impact of a natural disaster except that the grief was drowned in a sea of fear and rage. But that’s just it, anger fades and if you’ve lost everything (like Charlie) then fear is meaningless. So now, when the memories resurface, the senses hearken back to a diluted fear and rage but doesn’t know how to express the sadness that never went away. Charlie Fineman epitomizes that.
It’s a devastatingly powerful film that manages to have fun without being inconsistent. It’s enjoyable enough to watch again and again, making it wholly rare and dangerously fulfilling.
Reign Over Me
Written and directed by Mike Binder
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