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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Tribeca Review: Despite a Trifecta of Great Female Talent, CUSTODY Falls Flat

I really hate when bad movies happen to go people. I went into CUSTODY, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival really optimistic. A drama with Viola Davis, Catalina Sandino Moreno, and Ellen Burstyn? How can you go wrong?

If you're writer/director James Lapine, it's by essentially having them each act like they're in totally different movies--and none of them particularly any good. CUSTODY claims to be about Sara (Moreno), a woman fighting to regain custody over her two young children after an accident at home leads to their being taken into foster care. But actually, there are storylines in the film that bear no connection to that premise--yet take up a giant amount of space in the film. One of them is Martha (Davis), who's the judge in Sara's case. She's struggling with intimacy at home with her husband Jason (Tony Shalhoub). The other is Ally (Hayden Pannetiere), Sara's lawyer. She's dealing with a traumatic event from her childhood that still haunts her. What do these latter two plots have to do with getting Sara's kids back? Absolutely nothing.

I don't know what's more frustrating about CUSTODY--that it's a poor use of great talent, or that it doesn't trust its core plot enough to focus on it, or that at it's best it's a decent Law & Order episode. The performances are intriguing enough, especially Davis's, who highlights the overwhelming responsibility of being the "strong black woman." And Moreno manages to emphasize a point about the role of class in the family justice system with her portrayal. But they all just fall flat in the midst of a flailing premise. It's a shame.

Rating: D+ (** out of *****)


Dell said...

Too bad about this. The premise and cast are ripe with potential. Sounds like it's been squandered, though.

Amanda T said...

I disagree. I think the stories behind each character help show that everyone is fighting their own battles. Their issues at home can affect what they bring to work, their values, and judgement calls. Perhaps Hayden's character became a lawyer because of the trauma she experienced when she was younger. At the end, Viola and another judge talk about self-care and leaving the cases in the court. Viola says she tries to not take things home, which makes you wonder how she handles stress at home AND in the courts. How do these types of workers - judges, lawyers, social workers - do what they do, on top of all that they have going on? That's why there are so many story lines.

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