Noah Wyle's winning combination of open-faced, sincere good looks and
quietly desperate awkwardness makes him utterly watchable on ER.
He's the well-meaning rich kid who just can't quite get it together. He's
willing to reach out to people--to care--until his feelings get hurt, when
he quickly pulls away.
In writer-director Bart Freundlich's debut film The Myth of
Fingerprints, Wyle sticks with his strengths, playing a mildly troubled
young man who returns home for the first time in three years to endure a
family Thanksgiving. Joining him are a handful of brothers and sisters,
most notably a brittle sister played by Julianne Moore (another watchable
young actor who excels at being placidly uncomfortable). Amid a weekend of
tense dinner conversations, the various siblings make stabs at reconciling
with the root of their vague unhappiness--an aloof, alcoholic lech of a
father played by Roy Scheider.
The Myth of Fingerprints has a memorable look, framed by the
crisp, snow-covered landscapes of the American Northeast. Unfortunately,
Freundlich's script and direction fall into the usual traps that befall a
young artist, mainly an unsubstantiated faith in the power of his own
words. He relies on pseudo-sophisticated, presumably witty dialogue about
sex, relationships, and the pleasures of childhood, then breaks up this
lightweight repartee with lengthy pauses that are meant to add poignancy
but never really do.
Freundlich's main failing is that he can't ever convince us that these
disconnected characters are in any way a family. They're all so busy being
chilly that we never see them relate to each other at all--in either a
positive or a negative way. They simply wander in front of the camera, air
their petty gripes, and then wander out of frame, where they are quickly
In fact, the only actor who's really able to produce anything worthwhile
from the script is Wyle, whose character may have the biggest beef with
Scheider; he also seems to be the only one willing to get over it. He adds
warmth, while the rest of the cast gets frostier by the minute. The film
begins when he comes home early, and it ends when he leaves without saying
goodbye. That's Freundlich's way of acknowledging that without the promise
of more Wyle, there's no reason to keep filming.