Does the world need another movie about a dysfunctional family led by an abusive father?
"The Hanging Garden" suggests not, even though it at least approaches the subject matter with an admirable degree of originality. Writer-director Thom Fitzgerald can't overcome the hackneyed story he has chosen to tell, but he deserves some credit for telling it with grace and ingenuity.
On his sister's wedding day, William returns to his family's lakeside home in Canada to find that they have not changed: His sister Rosemary (Kerry Fox) is as brash and bitter as ever, his mother Iris (Seana McKenna) is in a worried state of denial, his father Mac (Peter MacNeill) still gets drunk and violent, and his grandmother (Joan Orenstein) is still upstairs, lost in a fog of memories and Hail Marys. There is one change afoot: Since he left 10 years ago, William has gained a sister, Violet (Christine Dunsworth), a pudgy tomboy with a mischievous streak.
William, played by Chris Leavins, doesn't just confront the family he left in order to survive; he also confronts his painful past as a little boy who could never please the implacable father, and the overweight teen-ager who, having tried and failed to come to terms with his homosexuality, tried to hang himself.
Fitzgerald distinguishes himself in these passages, when the adult William conjures visions of his young and teen-age self. Troy Veinotte gives an especially wrenching performance as the damaged adolescent coping with his burgeoning sexuality.
But even Veinotte's touching presence -- and a dazzlingly dyspeptic turn by the always fascinating Fox, last seen in "Welcome to Sarajevo" -- can't lift "The Hanging Garden" above the common loam of complaint. As nicely as Fitzgerald captures the way past and present meld for a man confronting his own life and family, that's not enough to hang a movie on.
Starring Chris Leavins, Troy Veinotte, Kerry Fox, Sarah Polley
Directed by Thom Fitzgerald
Released by Goldwyn Films
Rated R (strong sexuality, language, a hanging, some teen drug use)
Running time: 91 minutes
Sun Score: **
Pub Date: 7/03/98