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The Life Before Her Eyes

The Life Before Her Eyes is an artsy yet incomplete look on how lives can be changed forever by one tragic event--as fun as THAT sounds.


Based on a novel by Laura Kasischke, it focuses on two 17-year-old high school girls--Diana (Evan Rachel Wood) and Maureen (Eva Amurri)--who are completely opposite in personalities but still the best of friends. In fact, ''one is the virgin, one is the whore,'' according to Diana. She does everything her demure and religious BFF, with their bond going spiritually deep. One fateful day at high school changes their lives, however, when a student gunman goes on a shooting spree in the school. The gunman corners the two girls in the bathroom and tells them he must kill one. Jump to 15 years later, the adult Diana (Uma Thurman) has a great home life: smart, cute kid, successful husband, nice house. But it's not as it seems. It is assumed that Maureen was the one who was killed, prompted by her telling the gunman she wants to be the one shot. But a last-minute plot twist puts the movie's title in a different light: The Life Before Her Eyes is more than just Diana's life.


This film incorporates some elegant performances from Wood and Amurri--two veterans of the teen genre who portray their characters' friendship with much authenticity. Amurri(Susan Sarandon's real-life daughter) especially downplays her innocence with smart nuances, while Wood is coming into her own as a strong, edgy actress--just not enough to save this film. Thurman tempts Oscar-type bait as the emotionally distraught Diana, constantly reliving the horror of the killing spree through flashbacks. The actress' mood is maudlin and suitably translucent for mournfulness. But Thurman's screen presence is just too large and glamorous to be believable in the melancholy role. She looks to be assuming the trance-like "look of sadness," as though she's playing a role. Her body language is too confident to be carrying around a lifetime of hurt.


Director Vadim Perelman (House of Sand and Fog) is a poor man's Julian Schnabel--a visual and ephemeral craftsman who works with colors. Blurry imbued tones of greens and yellow bring the story to life, pairing with spring-time settings with shadows and light. The Life Before Her Eyes aims for a dreamlike complexity and how conscience ties to memory. The film is also about how changing a person's destiny can completely rewrite an entire history. A palette of moody camerawork from director of photography Pawel Edelman (The Pianist) creates an eternal lushness, which elevates the drama. The Columbine-style shooting sequences feels outdated, however. It's a contrived museum treatment such public tragedies. It's an adventurous independent film that doesn't quite come together as intended.

Bottom Line rated this film 2 1/2 stars.