Unhook the Stars

Director: Nick Cassavetes

Nick Cassavetes, the son of maverick independent film-maker John Cassavetes and actress Gena Rowlands, makes an attractive feature debut as director with this winning portrait of a mature woman who has reached a crossroads in her life. Mildred (Rowlands) is a widow who had spent most of her adult life trying to accommodate and please each member of her family. With a son who’s married and a rebellious teenage daughter who’s about to flee from the suburban family home, Mildred is pleased to fill her time looking after her neighbour Monica’s six-year-old son. She immediately takes a liking to the boy and soon becomes his surrogate mother. A friendship also develops between Mildred and the tough-minded Monica (Marisa Tomei), who has a stormy relationship with her blue-collar partner. Coaxed out to a bar one night by Monica, Mildred gets drunk and befriends Big Tommy (Gerard Depardieu), an amiable French-Canadian truck driver who takes her home. Realising that life still holds surprises and romantic possibilities, a rejuvenated Mildred decides to take charge of her own destiny.
At the heart of Unhook the Stars is a wonderful performance by Gena Rowlands who, as Nick Cassavetes reminds us, is the world’s greatest actress. The film is both a vehicle for and a tribute to Rowlands, a filmic love letter from a son to his mother. There are strong echoes of Gena’s roles in the many films she made with Cassavetes senior,for the woman who smothers her family with an excess of love in A Woman Under the Influence to the resourceful gangster’s moll in Gloria who fights like a tigress to protect the young kid in her charge. It’s also possible to see real-life parallels, with the film reflecting and endorsing Gina’s need to continue with her life and career after the death of her husband and collaborator. Even Gerard Depardieu’s role extends beyond his on-screen cameo. As a great admirer of Cassavetes and Rowlands, Depardieu was instrumental in the re-release of their classic films following John’s death in 1989, and he also arranged French financing for Unhook the Stars.
The film derives great resonance for these correspondences, but it also works perfectly well as a warm fable about a woman who succeeds in overcoming the tyranny of motherhood and re-inventing her life. Nick Cassavetes has already completed his second film, based on a script by his father and again starring his mother. It’s good to see the Cassaveted legacy continue to enrich an increasingly impersonal American cinema.

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