The subject of “Louder Than Words” — how a young girl’s death devastates her family but ultimately restores it — is inherently poignant. Unfortunately, director Anthony Fabian and writer Benjamin Chapin do dumbfoundingly little with it. At every turn, the movie is less moving than the real-life events that inspired it.
The character who needs to speak with something other than words is John (David Duchovny), a driven real-estate developer in New York City’s northern suburbs. He doesn’t say much to his wife, Brenda (Hope Davis), or to their college-age fraternal triplets, Julie, Michael and Stephanie (Morgan Griffin, Ben Rosenfield and Adelaide Kane, respectively). But he has a special bond with tween daughter Maria (Olivia Steele-Falconer).
Maria is about to die, as she hints in her voice-over during the very first scene. Rushed to the hospital with what seems to be a treatable disease, she succumbs to one for which there is no cure.
The family’s loss should be powerful, but it’s never palpable because Maria keeps returning in flashbacks and as a narrator. This is perhaps the strangest of the filmmakers’ many odd decisions. They’ve made a film about bereavement in which the departed person rarely disappears for long.
During Maria’s time in the hospital, John and Brenda are regularly struck by how crummy the place is. The viewer will be, too. These didactic moments are rendered with all the subtlety of a reflex hammer, aimed not at the knee but at the nose.
“My role in the family is the glue,” Maria announces. Sure enough, after her death, things come apart. John stops talking, Michael stops eating and Brenda can’t stop cleaning. Stephanie drops out of college to heal her parents, but soon grows so frustrated that she runs away.
Then John reads Maria’s diary and is inspired by her idealism. He decides to build a children’s hospital and name it after his daughter. He’s so jazzed that he hires an administrator, Bruce, before he has a building or, for that matter, a building program. Bruce is played by Timothy Hutton, who’s given even less to do as an actor than Duchovny.
Had the movie shown the battles that John and Bruce fought to get the hospital built, these two performers could have demonstrated their acting chops. Weirdly, nearly all of that conflict occurs off-camera. Part of John’s rebirth is winning the confidence of people who used to testify against him at the planning board. But we don’t really see him do that.
Funding the hospital probably wasn’t among the toughest health-care challenges, since John, Brenda and their neighbors seem to be some of the richest and best-connected people in the country. That might also explain why “Louder Than Words” was made.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.
PG-13. At AMC Hoffman Center 22. Contains a child’s death, smoking, drinking and one profanity.