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Unimaginative 'Heroes'

By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 11, 2005; Page WE34

"IMAGINARY HEROES" is the latest, and not the last, in a long-standing era of -- what to call them? -- suburban angst films. We've watched sub/angst in such films as "The Ice Storm," "American Beauty," "Welcome to the Dollhouse," "Donnie Darko," "Thirteen," and "Garden State," to name but a few. In these films, dark, wayward and dysfunctional impulses are counterpointed with the faux paradise of suburban America.

On any given day, Sis has bulimia and is making herself throw up before school. She's probably thinking of suicide. And if she isn't, Bro certainly is. Or he's popping ecstasy. Mom's on antidepressants, red wine or both. Dad, still stuck in the summer of 1967 or some equivalent, smokes weed in the car. They're probably divorcing, if they haven't already. Meanwhile, the fridge is full and humming away, the TV is always on and, well, you get the picture: Postmodern gonzo alienation at 5555 Every Street.


Suburban dystopia: Sigourney Weaver and Emile Hirsch play a dysfunctional mother and son in "Imaginary Heroes." (John Clifford -- Sony Pictures Classics)

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So here we are in "Imaginary Heroes," which stars Sigourney Weaver, Emile Hirsch and Jeff Daniels. Weaver is Sandy Travis, a jaded mom who has an unusually frank, close relationship with her son Tim (Hirsch), a high school student with all kinds of dark secrets. True to form, she likes to smoke pot with him on occasion. And also true to form, there's a suicide in the family. It seems Tim's older brother, Matt (Kip Pardue), hates champion swimming so much, he has to exit this mortal coil.

The death, which happens early in the movie, hangs over the family. And Tim is the one to see the body first. The hardest hit is Sandy's husband, Ben (Daniels), who insists on laying a place for Matt at the dinner table. The lightest hit is Tim's Gothy no-nonsense sister, Penny (Michelle Williams), who asks Tim "What was it like?"

" 'It'?" asks Tim.

Conversations, by the way, need to be laconic, cynical and postmodern. Tears take their time, if they come at all.

Tim hits the drugs and hangs with neighbor pal Kyle (Ryan Donowho). Ben goes into a deep funk and, it turns out, spends all day on a park bench instead of at the office. Sandy decides to buy some pot so she can have a date with the young cashier (Jay Paulson) who just asked her out. She gets arrested.

Doom and gloom, baby. And there are pronouncements like this: "You won't understand how good for you I am till I'm dead," Sandy tells Tim. And there seem to be about a half-dozen spiraling subplots that go nowhere in particular. But it's oh so hiply done -- at least, that's the idea. Writer-director Dan Harris should be commended for attempting to make a movie about the offbeat and the unusual, except that this subject (or the way it's treated) has become very on-beat and very usual. Indie America, it's time to put down the doobie and get original again.

IMAGINARY HEROES (R, 117 minutes) -- Contains nudity and graphic obscenity. At Regal Gallery Place.


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