The aptly titled Weightless is all about an aimless man named Joel (Alessandro Nivola) who meets and must parent his emotionally damaged, 10-year-old son Will (newcomer Eli Haley), who has been living with Joel’s sister-in-law since the boy’s mother vanished without a trace shortly after he was born—an unexplained mystery that has left both father and son emotionally adrift. Joel works at a garbage dump, sometimes gets drunk with co-workers after hours, and even manages to hold down a relationship with a better-than-he-deserves doctor Janeece (Julianne Nicholson), who doesn’t even know he has a son until the boy has been picked up and brought over to Joel’s tiny home.
At first Will is quiet to the point where everyone wonders if he’ll ever speak; the situation is made all the worse by Joel’s assertion that he has no real interest in raising a child, to the point where social workers offer up the idea of putting Will in a foster home. Joel practically jumps for joy at the prospect (causing Janeece to break up with him). In fact, a great deal of Weightless is an exercise in terrible parenting, which may be more than some viewers can handle. Joel certainly isn’t abusive, but he doesn’t realize that it’s not necessarily a good thing to leave a 10-year-old home alone while you go to work all day. Fortunately, Will is a resourceful kid and manages to make friends with a local girl, who might be the kindest person in the film.
The film might have a bit more emotional bite of Nivola wasn’t trying so hard to play an emotionless piece of wood. But the idea of Weightless is that having this boy come into his life makes Joel a better person, getting him start to care for something other than himself (and considering we’re not even sure he cares that much for himself, that’s saying something). Even positioning Joel next to more expressive and interesting people, like his supervisor (played by Johnny Knoxville), doesn’t do anything to make him more accessible as a character. So when he’s put in a position to show he cares for his son, it’s a bit of a hard sell. And when both of your leads are so stone-faced and largely uncommunicative, it’s difficult to care enough to want to know where they or their relationship end up.
The film ends up feeling slight and unformed, and I’m not even sure the “uplifting” ending director Jason Albertin delivers is as hopeful as he thinks it is. It’s awards season, and as a result there are far better melodramas out there right now; you’d be better off checking one of those out.
The film opens today for a weeklong run at Facets Cinémathèque.
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