Evan Rachel Wood in The Life Before Her Eyes
In Vadim Perelman’s The Life Before Her Eyes, Evan Rachel Wood and Uma Thurman both play the same woman, but at different points in life. Wood is the rebellious 17-year-old Diana and Thurman is the adult, now a mother with a difficult little girl of her own. Besides years, separating the two is a Columbine-like high school shooting where Diana and her best friend Maureen (Eva Amurri) are forced by the killer to choose which one of them will die.
Though the shooting weighs heavily on every minute of the film, this isn’t a thriller. Instead, the story flashes back and forth between past and future. First there is Wood, impatiently waiting for her life to get started in the days leading up to the shooting and then there is Thurman, struggling with the consequences of what really happened that day and slowly unraveling as the 15th anniversary draws near.
It’s an interesting set-up that unfortunately is only partly successful. Like Perelman’s previous film The House of Sand and Fog, there’s a precious, specimen-under-glass quality that detracts from the emotion you’d hope for. The film asks to be intellectualized rather than felt.
That’s not to say there aren’t some powerful moments. There are. The school shooting that is the turning point in the drama is effective and harrowing. The cast is also very good. Evan Rachel Wood especially does some of her better work as the young girl who bristles under the authority that parents and school still hold over her and who is anxious for her life to really begin. While Wood looks ahead, Thurman looks back, questioning the choices she’s made along the way. She’s got a more difficult role as a woman who seems to be losing hold on reality, but she does a nice job.
Besides Wood, the other high points are the production design and the beautiful cinematography that lend the film a hazy/dreamy quality. The artificiality of it is off-putting at first, but it befits the remembered pasts in which the film traffics.
Less effective is the clockwork precision of the film. Filled with symbols and parallels and pregnant with meaning, it’s laid out like a puzzle that’s a little too precise and preordained. Like a piece of wax fruit, it’s pretty but frustratingly juiceless.
Nevertheless, The Life Before Her Eyes gets just enough right that it’s still recommended, particularly for fans of Evan Rachel Wood. It’s a film about actions and consequences; about how even small acts can ripple forward and cloud an otherwise promising future. It’s about choices and regrets. Had it been a little more spontaneous and emotional, it could’ve been truly satisfying instead of only marginally so.
The Life Before Her Eyes. USA 2008. Directed by Vadim Perelman. Written by Emil Stern from the book by Laura Kasischke. Cinematography by Pawel Edelman. Music score composed by James Horner. Starring Uma Thurman, Evan Rachel Wood, Eva Amurri and Gabrielle Brennan. 1 hour 30 minutes. Rated R for violent and disturbing content, language and brief drug use. 3 stars (out of 5)