The Myth of Fingerprints (1997)


(director/writer: Bart Freundlich; cinematographer: Stephen Kazmierski; editor: Kate Williams/Ken J. Sackheim; music: David Bridie/John Phillips; cast: Blythe Danner (Lena), Hope Davis (Margaret), Laurel Holloman (Leigh), Brian Kerwin (Elliot), James LeGros (Cezanne), Julianne Moore (Mia), Roy Scheider (Hal), Noah Wyle (Warren), Arija Bareikis (Daphne), Michael Vartan (Jake); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Mary Jane Skalski/Tim Perell/Bart Freundlich; Sony Pictures Classics; 1997)

“It’s mainly through the efforts of the superior ensemble cast that the family drama turns out to be better than average.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The 27-year-old NYU film grad first-time filmmaker Bart Freundlich (“The Rebound”/”Hired Hands”) is writer-director of this slice-of-life serio-comedy that is mature but the old-fashioned subject matter is too familiar to be exciting.

Maine parents Lena (Blythe Danner) and Hal (Roy Scheider) invite their four grown children over for a Thanksgiving reunion dinner and the picture-perfect family soon shows its imperfections. The story line charts the dysfunctional WASP family, as headed by a cold and distant dad and a warm and forgiving mom.

One by one the kiddies are introduced and profiled. The college-age Warren (Noah Wyle) is the first to arrive; he has not been home for three years. Warren was dumped by his high school sweetheart, Daphne (Arija Bareikis), and he quickly tracks her down in the small-town and pines after her for a possible reconciliation. The non-committal Jake (Michael Vartan), once mom’s favorite, turns up with a sexpot blonde, Margaret (Hope Davis). The oldest sister Mia (Julianne Moore), who is always angry and skilled in finding a bad word to say about everything, brings along her latest man, a psychotherapist named Elliot (Brian Kerwin). He’s a doofus. The family’s youngest member and seemingly the least damaged emotionally, the tomboyish easy-going Leigh (Laurel Holloman), is for some inexplicable reason attracted to Elliot and hits on him. This gives Mia, in this understated sibling rivalry, pause to return the admiring attentions of Cezanne (James LeGros), someone she knew from grade school when he went by his real name.

It’s up to momma Lena to keep a fragile peace going among all the genteel but angst-driven family members, as Mia goes on tantrums, weirdo misanthropic Hal voices cold disapproval over the flock and the reunion becomes a battlefield for the emotions.

By dinner’s end we only learn surface things about the characters (it only hints at the causes of their emotional problems that range from betrayal to child abuse), not even their jobs, and it’s the comical moments that register best; such as, dad going into the woods to hunt a turkey but returning home to fire a shot in the air as he brings home for dinner a store-bought bird.

It’s mainly through the efforts of the superior ensemble cast that the family drama turns out to be better than average, as the cast does a great job fleshing out what Freundlich hinted at. The title seems to indicate a denial of blood ties as a DNA in kinship and personality, yet upon quick observation all the family members seem to be driving Volvos.