Tribeca Film Festival: Fighting to understand “Eric LaRue”

Tribeca Film Festival: Fighting to understand “Eric LaRue”

Let’s leave the politics at the door right now. Let’s forget about what strange take on guns in America you may have and just admit that we have a problem. Because no matter what jargon you want to blurt out to defend your desire to own a wide array of automatic weapons, the fact of the matter is that all sides of any tragedy that hits a community of any size have to take into consideration the actual feelings of all those involved. Even if you can empathize and sympathize with those at the center of a school shooting, you’ll never fully understand what those people are going through. Such is the focus of Janice LaRue (Judy Greer), mother of the titular Eric LaRue.

Weeks after her son took two guns to school and shot three students to death, Janice LaRue is still looking to figure things out. She tries to go back to work and get her life back to some normalcy. However, nothing seems to help get the world back in order for her. She hasn’t been to visit her son in prison, she fights with her husband who has found solace in a new ultra religious parish, she can’t seem to work out how to communicate with her own pastor who is trying to help her heal (though he is very bad at it, himself). She has yet to even enter her son’s room to clean up after the police came in and raided it. How does she begin to heal these scars and also communicate her feelings to the mother’s her son has wronged?

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Ok, those are two heavy opening paragraphs.

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The subject matter at hand is weighty, there is no doubting it.

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While Eric LaRue (the directorial debut of actor Michael Shannon) doesn’t shy away from the tough subjects, it does play with a lot of its story in a light and playful way. Steve Calhan (Paul Sparks) really does want to do something to help his community heal; but he is woefully horrible at doing it. His bumbling attempts to seem genuine get lost in a cavalcade of an emotional conjuring of the Keystone Cops physical hijinks. 

On the other end, Janice’s husband Ron (Alexander Skarsgård) is drawn into an older religious thought process in which Jesus is there to take the boiling pain of someone else’s sins for you. He bubbly jaunts around town and his home because Jesus is there for him. His attempts to get Janice to join his new congregation is another thorn in her side, but also adds to the lighter/comedic side of the film’s presence for the audience. Like the recent school shooter parent exploration, Mass, Shannon and screenwriter Brett Neveu (whose play the film is based on), knew the subject matter was so heavy, so they leveraged it with some humor to not drown the audience in pain.

While there are some questionable portions of the film that may make it feel like the balance between humor and drama are way out balances, the film is kept afloat by one thing that I think everyone can guess what that thing is before even watching the film or reading this review. The ever loved, yet somehow under appreciated Judy Greer is what keeps you glued to your seat for the film. I know it would be impossible physically, but I still think Judy Greer needs to be cast in every film, ever. Her ability here to show the pain and disgrace of her everyday thoughts and her disdain and confusion with how others treat her and the same energy level is something of a miracle. 

Overall though, Eric LaRue never fully balances itself in any manner. It isn’t till the end of the film that you start to realize there is a part of Janice that felt the same things her son did when she was younger. It’s nothing that is ever hinted at through the entire film, but somehow just dumped on the audience in a still cryptic style in the closing minutes. Trying to fit in the film’s ending to the rest of the film feels like a chore with no real payoff. Trying to grasp a fully formed intention of the story is more of a fight than arguing with your husband as to which parish to listen to.

Final Grade: C

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