As 2011 will see the highest number of sequels (27) ever released in one year, it seems fitting for today’s “gem” blog to be a sequel to last week. The film I’m recommending today was written and directed by Mike Binder, whose The Upside of Anger was last week’s gem.
The story of Reign Over Me revolves around former college roommates Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler) and Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle) who both went on to become dentists. Both also married, began raising families, and then somewhat lost track of each other. There, the similarities of their lives ended. Charlie’s wife, three daughters, and even the family dog were aboard one of the planes that hit the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.
In an instant, Charlie lost his entire world. Traumatized, he quit not only his practice but also his connection with every one in his life. Alan, whose family life is much more stable, nonetheless feels unsettled and alienated from his wife. He had tried to reach Charlie when he read of the 9/11 tragedy, but could not find him until, by “chance” he sees Charlie ride by him one night on a scooter. When he runs to catch up, he is stunned to see the deterioration in his old friend, and even more shocked when Charlie does not seem to even remember him. That encounter is the catalyst for the rest of the film, wherein Alan befriends Charlie and tries to help him reconnect with life itself.
Unfortunately, the film did not do well at the box office when it opened theatrically in February of 2007. The subject matter (which has deep resonance today as we approach the 1oth Anniversary of 9/11) may indeed have distanced some people from going to the theaters. Don Cheadle is quite rightfully embraced by audiences as a brilliant dramatic actor but the fact that Adam Sandler plays Charlie Fineman may also have misled people about the tenor of the film.
If so, that would be a true disservice to Mr. Sandler’s transcendent performance. He plays Charlie with heartbreaking tenderness and vulnerability. Many people are, however, only accustomed to Mr. Sandler starring in broad comedies. In that regard, the situation with Reign Over Me bears some similarities to other movies with the same challenges: Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind, starring Jim Carrey who also gave a magnificent performance in a dramatic film when people were more accustomed to seeing him in broad comedies, and both Stranger Than Fiction and Everything Must Go (which I wrote about earlier this week), starring Will Ferrell.
In both The Upside of Anger and Reign Over Me, Mr. Binder shows enormous understanding and compassion for people in crisis and his characters beautifully portray the emotions that so many of us experience but are so rarely shown with such soul as in both of Mr. Binder’s films. Old Hollywood, through and through.
The challenge of healing our own hearts is at the very epicenter of the soul of Reign Over Me. Charlie is so lost in his own grief that he has consciously tried to disconnect himself from his own feelings and even his memories. Alan is also disconnected from his daily life and sees in Charlie the opportunity to heal a friend and in so doing heal himself. As with most of us, it’s so much easier to see someone else’s problems than it is to see our own, isn’t it? When, however, we deny those feelings, they don’t disappear. Charlie and Alan, help each other embrace those feelings and, in so doing, heal themselves.
Brilliantly written, directed, and acted, Reign Over Me is an Old Hollywood film for the new century that will resonate in my heart forever.