Movie Review - Stuff (2015) - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Movie Review - Stuff (2015)

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Phyllis Somerville (left), Karen Sillas (middle) and Yvonne Jung in 'Stuff' (2015) Phyllis Somerville (left), Karen Sillas (middle) and Yvonne Jung in 'Stuff' (2015)

There is a quote from Benjamin Franklin where this movie gets its title. Franklin said, "Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of."

Squandering time is certainly an important theme here, or at least the passage of time and how it affects people are crucial. Whether it's a father who procrastinates on putting handles on cabinet doors or whether it's a single mom waiting for her child to be brought home, the minutes and hours that we let move past us and why we let them move past us are key to who we are, according to this movie.

It's similar to what Michael Cunningham was attesting in his novel and Stephen Daldry adapted in The Hours (2002). Julianne Moore co-starred in that film and was devastating in it, but if I had to compare this movie to a Julianne Moore piece, it would actually be The Kids Are All Right (2010). Moore plays one-half of a lesbian couple with two kids and having marital problems, leading Moore's character to have an affair.

Yvonne Jung is the Julianne Moore of this story. She plays Debra Murdoch, one-half of a lesbian couple with two kids, two daughters in fact, and she's also having marital problems, leading her to possibly have an affair. However, unlike that 2010, Oscar-nominated film, this one didn't make me dislike Jung's character as I did Moore's, or at least it didn't make me misunderstand her. I thoroughly understood Debra. Jung's performance was also so good that I was with her every step of the way, even when those steps led her into the arms of another woman.

Karen Sillas co-stars as Trisha Murdoch, the wife of Debra who works as a dentist. She's the breadwinner who already is out of the house enough already. What takes her out of the house and out of the lives of her wife and little daughters even more is the fact that her father recently died and she feels the need to care for her widowed mother.

Phyllis Somerville plays Ginger, the aforementioned, widowed mother, but she's not some ill, some non-functional or depressed woman. She still very much has her wits about her. She's smart and funny. Yes, she's upset about losing her husband, but she might not need Trisha's constant and hovering presence.

Writer-director Suzanne Guacci utilizes the idea of time to explore her characters, but the "stuff" that her title refers might not just be time. It might also be the physical objects that are people's possessions, or things that represent or have important value to people, things that they want. Trisha, for example, has the goal of getting a headstone for her father's grave.

For Trisha and Debra's eldest daughter, Suzie, played wonderfully by Maya Guacci, the goal is getting a microphone in two very crucial moments. Debra tries to persuade Suzie that she shouldn't obsess over getting this one object, just as Ginger tries to persuade Trisha from obsessing over getting the headstone.

It's not that Guacci is making an argument for materialism, but she is saying that for illogical and often, purely emotional reasons, human beings do put value on "stuff," on material objects because they can represent things that can help us to cope with situations, whether it's death or it's a school play.

Guacci grapples with time and materialism, as well as normalizing two lesbians as mothers and members of a family more so than the 2010 film or any other production thus far. Yet, she also succeeds as a simple dramatist, providing great scenes for her actresses. Two scenes of fighting showcase how amazing, for example, Somerville and Jong can be. Somerville in fact is so strong and superbly fiery, and Jong is just absolutely heartbreaking.

Traci Dinwiddie plays Jamie, a single mom who clashes with Debra and Trisha, eventually coming between the two. Despite this, Dinwiddie does a good job of getting us to fall in love with her. Her ex-husband Brian, played by Joseph A. Halsey, is a stereotype, but one of the few male actors in this film, Kevin Brown who plays Trisha's friend and co-worker Mike, isn't a stereotype. There is even an obvious path Guacci could have taken with him, but I'm glad she didn't.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains brief sexuality.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 37 mins.

Premiered at Frameline39.
Plays at Outfest on July 12 at 3PM.
For tickets and more information, go to Outfest LA's film guide.

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