Movie Review - A Guide to Recognizing Your SaintsPosted November 10th, 2007 by Chris
My wife and I tend to prefer watching movies to television, which means that unlike television, where you have a few channels to choose from and aren't too invested in any particular show, a movie can either make your night or force you into a 2-hour loop of doubt and uncertainty (do you turn it off now? Will it get better? Is it better just to watch it to the end so you can, with complete confidence, warn all unsuspecting souls never to ever rent this movie ever?). Unfortunately, we've been cursed with a string of the latter. This has the effect of setting your expectations lower and lower, so if you're blessed with a movie that breaks the chain, it's a brighter experience by sheer contrast.
"A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints" broke the chain. The movie was autobiographical, and not only did the main character write the story, but he also directed it. The result was a very powerful, emotional journey through vignettes in his childhood, with flashes to his future, adult self. It feels real and genuine in it's dark, un-Hollywoody rendering.
After reading A Million Little Pieces and experiencing the resulting disappointment in the discovery that most of the book was in fact false, I can't help but wonder how much of this movie was true to life, and what might have been overly-romanticized. In the end, I don't know if it matters too much to me, because I only found out about the autobiographical nature of the film after we were done watching it, and as a purely fictional piece it has a lot of strength.
One thing I really liked about the movie's style were a few times when the characters voices were over-dubbed while they were having conversations, but without any background noise, and with calm, collected voices. It was as if the voice you heard was what the character would really be saying if they didn't have to contend with all the social forces and noise around them. I've never really seen that before, and it lent those moments a kind of genuineness that they couldn't have had otherwise. I guess it also hearkens to what it might feel like to be reading the book the movie was based off of. Books have a way of getting across emotion that movies can't, maybe because there always has to be movement in movies; noise, shifts, cuts. When you read, it's just you and the book.
If you watch the movie, I think the 20-minute-or-so documentary in the special features, "Making Saints", is worth the watch, too.