Friday, September 24, 2021

Mass: Movie Review

Carefully and cathartically balancing anger, grief, and regret.
Mass opens in a church. I know what you’re thinking, isn’t this about a mass shooting? It is. The six years later aftermath of a school shooting, and now we’re in an Episcopal Church, a neutral location with a room available for two sets of parents to meet. One location, seven characters in total, and one incident that nobody wants to talk about.   2021

Directed by: Fran Kranz

Screenplay by: Fran Kranz

Starring: Ann Dowd, Reed Birney,
Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton

Mass is Fran Kranz’s directorial debut. A primarily comedic actor known for The Cabin in the Woods, Kranz is going small but bold. It’s a sharp dramatic script tip-toeing around metaphorical bombs, building off of awkwardness with piercing emotion. It takes a lot of bravery to set a story with such deep emotional substance in such a character-less room. We don’t get to see the beautiful architecture of the church, no, we’re in an almost-bare community room. There’s a table, some stacking chairs set around, and of course a Jesus on the cross adorned to the wall.

We have to sustain the awkwardness of the Church employee getting ready for the day’s guests for what feels like a lot longer than the few minutes it is. This is not a knock on the film’s pace. This is on purpose. Judy (Breeda Wool) represents the every-person; she doesn’t know what to say, and she’s just not capable of saying nothing.

Gail (Martha Plimpton) and Jay (Jason Isaacs) are the first to arrive. They’re the parents of one of the kids who was killed in the school shooting. Gail’s angry, Jay’s trying to maintain composure at minimum, if not peace. Then comes Richard (Reed Birney) and Linda (Ann Dowd). They’re the parents of the shooter who took his own life too. It’s dark and it’s heavy, but the shifting of the emotions just feels so natural, and cathartic if these characters were real people.

All four actors are stellar. After all this is a dialogue-only, real-time movie that features just the four of them. Martha Plimpton is an actress you’ve seen on your TV many times but probably never put a name to face. She’s often funny, or caustic, but this is an example of what happens when you give good material to good actors. Gail’s anger and grief just brings everything into focus.

Ann Dowd has been in the Oscar race before and her name recognition is likely what keeps this film in the awards season chatter. Linda’s also angry, but she wants to be respectful and calm until the film starts exploring regret, and then there’s a deep sadness that all of the four recognize.

My favourite of the cast is Jason Isaacs. I loved Jay’s attempts to be reconciliatory at the beginning but also respecting his wife’s intense anger. You can see his exhaustion from being angry, but he also doesn’t want to let Linda and Richard off the hook. The best part of this movie is how the emotions shift, nobody stays in one emotional state for very long, and more often than not it was Isaacs that sparked the shift in conversation, even when that was staying quiet because he recognized another character’s need to be heard.

Mass is not overly sad – this is six years after a mass shooting so the intense sadness has dissipated. This is about controlling and living with long-term grief. It’s 110 minutes of exploring emotions. Kranz pays attention to a lot of details, but there’s also nothing extraneous. The four characters each steal focus as necessary, the Jesus on the cross on the wall remains in the background.