Freestyle Digital Media
Director: Kurt Voelker
Written by: Kurt Voelker
Cast: J.K. Simmons, Julie Delpy, Josh Wiggins, Odeya Rush
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/2/17
Opens: October 20, 2017
The Holmes and Rahe scale rates from one to a hundred the forty-three causes of stress that could lead to illness. An argument with the boss, surprisingly, rates only 23. What’s at the top of the scale? The death of a spouse, a cool 100. That number 100 becomes the theme at the heart of Kurt Voelker’s “The Bachelors,” as Bill Ponder (J.K. Simmons) cannot stop grieving over the death of his wife, who passed away just sixty-one days after a cancer diagnosis. As Bill’s psychiatrist (Harold Perrineau) states, it’s not healthy for a man to grieve more than one year after the death, so we’d have to say that Bill is in a funk, a major depression that does not respond to medication or to electroshock treatments.
After the death of Bill’s wife Jeanie (Kimberly Crandall), Bill chucks everything into a van and moves from San Francisco to the L.A. area with his teen son Wes (Josh Wiggins). While Bill is wondering whether he will again have an intimate relationship with a woman or even want one, Wes may wonder how he’s doing in his new link-up with Lacy Westman (Odeya Rush). The two meet via their French teacher’s initiative, who suggests that they do homework together with Wes as a tutor to the less capable Lacy. If Bill’s psychiatric problems are disturbing, the same goes for Lacy, suffering from a borderline personality disorder that causes her destructively to make cuts in her arm.
As Bill takes a job teaching calculus in St. Martin’s prep school thanks to the intervention of his college friend now headmaster, Paul Abernac (Kevin Dunn), he strikes up a relationship with his son’s French teacher, Carine (Julie Delpy). You might think that Carine, a charming woman, would get Bill out of his emotional misery, but that will take time since he believes that carrying on with her would be a betrayal of his wife.
The bond between Bill and his son Wes is a close one, threatening to break down when young Wes is unable to put up with his dad’s moping. Nor do the drugs help, unless their aim is to make the patient a zombie. At least Wes can overcome his own sadness by participating actively in the school’s cross-country team, egged on by the headmaster who agrees that running is all a matter of pain—though more of a physical discomfort than a psychological one.
The sessions that Bill has with the well-meaning psychiatrist are interesting, but aside from the prescriptions, the doctor interprets his patient’s moods as would any social worker. The awkwardness facing Wes as he tries to get closer to the self-destructive Lacy can remind you of your own klutziness when you were in high school, but nowadays in this age of sexual freedom, one may wonder whether writer-director Kurt Voelker is reproducing typical conversations that boys and girls had in the bad old days of the 1950s.
J.K. Simmons is always fun to watch, whether he is hawking Farmer’s Insurance on TV or dealing with his role of Mac Macguff as the father of Ellen Page’s Juno. He elevates the role to more than that of a grieving father here, his face sporting a full-brown rust beard serving to keep the faith with his handsome son—handsome in the sense of cute. You can bet that eventually Carine, probably the most caring teacher in the school, will do more for Bill than his psychiatrist and Cymbalta will achieve. This is an emotional story, a two- or three-hanky tale that could easily find a place on TV but fits just fine as a conventional drama of healing.
Unrated. 99 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers? Agree? Disagree? Why?
Story – B-
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B