TWO STARS - Challenging
The fabric of our lives is woven from the strands of unique influences.
In a film which had great promise but only begins to scratch the surface of this powerful topic, UNSTRUNG HEROES is a depiction of the fabric of a life.
Had Director Diane Keaton delved more deeply into the inner motivations and fears of the film’s characters, it would have provided a more universal message.
Taken from the family biography of Franz Lidz, the story revolves around the life of a young adolescent whose mother is dying.
Stephen Lidz (Nathan Watt) is the son of a genius. His father Sid (John Turturro) is an inventor with a religious belief in Science.
Having attended the 1939 World’s Fair, Sid describes his conversion to Science with evangelistic language and fervor.
He believes, as the early narrative explains, that there is “nothing broken which Science can not fix.”
His early training in the importance of documentation of facts and approaching each problem from a scientific analysis is part of Stephen’s life.
But another strand, which Science can not fix, is the cancer of his mother.
Played with irresistible affection, Selma (Andie MacDowell) is the balancing counterpart of her husband’s cold analysis.
Accepting both her husband’s intelligence and appreciating her son’s question, “Is dad from another planet?,” Selma is the heart of the family.
Although the film never allows us to truly see inside the deeper lives of the characters, the loss of his mother is an obvious devastation for Stephen.
In attempting to remove that strand from his life, he embraces two other influences, a paranoid uncle named Danny (Michael Richards) and a mentally slow uncle named Arthur (Maury Chaykin).
At first, his uncles are only a source of embarrassment for Stephen. But as he runs from the pain of his mother’s illness, he flees into the insanity of his uncle’s world.
It is there that he begins to find himself. Receiving unconditional acceptance and a simple adoration,
Stephen is able to let down his guard and take life more as it comes, rather than as he wants it to be.
When his uncles decide that he needs a better name than Stephen, he embraces their new name of Franz.
When his uncles decide he needs to dress in ridiculous disguises because of their paranoid fears, he relishes the adventure.
When his uncles decide he is “the one to watch” because of his help in outwitting a mean building superintendent, he finds esteem.
And when his uncles introduce him to their Jewish faith and heritage, Stephen chooses to take the training and preparation for worshiping God in the temple.
It is this final spiritual strand that brings Stephen to the place where he can begin to accept the illness of his mother.
Although his father’s faith in Science causes him to try to discount the faith of son, he is confronted with the impotence of his Science when it cannot save the life of his wife.
In a moving scene where Sid proclaims his disbelief in God, Selma tells him that his workaholic scientific experiments have only isolated him from the real world. She then proclaims that she and Stephen want to believe in God.
This truth that the spiritual is the larger strand which can cause all other strands to come together into meaning and beauty is the final scene of the film.
When Sid tries to throw away the memories of Selma by destroying the documenting films of her life, Stephen gathers them and goes to the temple to view them.
It is there that the strands come together.
When Sid joins him in the temple we are reminded that whether life, or death, or genius or paranoia, or any other thing comes into our lives, it is in God that all things work together for good.