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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Once Was a True Love of Mine
by Donald Levit

Themes of love and death are too deep for the middlebrow pleaser of redemption that is Aurora Borealis, but it will attract its audience. Despite one of the more embarrassing final lines in recent memory, director James C.E. Burke’s film pictures love for once without a peep of seamy flesh aside from an octogenarian male’s legs in a Mall of the Americas bathroom: this is Minnesota, after all, where it snows much of the time and, January averaging 11.2°F, folks bundle up even indoors. And death holds a family in emotional thrall, so that release to knowledge about a father’s death and thus to freedom for loving, can only come about through another, wished-for death that is also a release.

Overdoing the wise but obscenely crotchety grandfather Ronald Shorter, Donald Sutherland has improved on the slighter palsy rehearsed in Ask the Dust and here adds bouts of “the A-bomb” of approaching Alzheimer’s. He and loving, quietly suffering wife Ruth (Louise Fletcher) are a good elderly screen couple in their new seniors’ high-rise crammed with the expected adorable cranks. Knowing he is a burden slipping away piece by piece, he wants out so that she will be freed and harbors regrets that he failed coke-snorting son David, dead in the snow at thirty-nine.

Their widowed mother gone to sunny Florida, grandsons Duncan (Joshua Jackson) and Jacob (Steven Pasquale) must deal, too, with the ghost of that idolized father, with grandpa, with their own less than happy lives, and with each other. Married with two kids, Jake the respectable banker uses his unwilling sibling’s seedy apartment for a clandestine affaire with Sandy, for which he leaves behind grudgingly accepted fifty-dollar bills.

Duncan, who grandpa beams “turned out all right,” needs the money. A crackerjack hockey player at fifteen, he gave up when dad died, turned away from school and scholarships and for ten years now has been drifting in and out of nothing jobs and surviving on the cheap car maintenance of David’s best friend and ex-dealer Stu (John Kapelos) and the sometimes good-natured largesse of his own beer-swilling, hockey-playing, Viking-diehard buddies (Zack Ward, Timm Sharp, Tyler Labine).

Just fired again, Duncan has the time to drop in on Ronnie and Ruth, where still-wily grandpa arranges for grandson to put his best foot forward for the home therapy assistant from Wentworth Nursing Home. As free-living and –talking Kate Ashby, Juliette Lewis has one of her better rôles of late. Not very made-up yet suggesting a touch of the garish, with her broad round forehead and Bacall rasp, she is the no-nonsense girl of heart of gold. One of the boys indistinguishable while snowboarding or foul-mouthing, and ill-at-ease with culinary arts or Jake’s fastidious wife Cara (Krista Bridges), against her grain she is ready to trust her all to Duncan.

But he and brother Jake have comfortable if unfulfilling routines thinly covering unsettled issues from the past. And, for all her perky tough surface, she is restlessly on the constant move -- Portland, Seattle, Atlanta, Austin, and now an invitation from friend Anna to move on to San Diego by January. Inertia and fear hold uncommitted Duncan where he has always been, but Brent Boyd’s script guards the impulse behind her centrifugal movement. The reason she laughingly offers -- to catch the Bronzed Gods rock band -- is as good as any in her peripatetic life for having landed in Twin Cities but is undercut by an unbelievable near miss at Stu’s gas pumps.

She is right, of course, that this, or any, “place is just a place,” but places mean people, and people need to be dealt with. First of all, having played his Cupid part and now sans everything, grandpa must have his exit to mere oblivion, though not precisely the one hurriedly arranged, and release Ruth to life; the long-avoided question must be asked of Stu, and Jake and Dunc have to acknowledge the dead past, their brotherly bond and the living present. Only then can the future be tried.

Without anything fancy, and working out not nearly so profoundly, Aurora Borealis mainly affirms this gamble that is life and love. Predictable but not preachy, its likeable types quirky and familiar, it is a good if undemanding watch. 

(Released by Regent Releasing and rated “R”for language.)

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