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By Jim Slotek
Thomas Grey’s classic “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” asks us to imagine all the poetry and genius lost to lives of rustic poverty. Conversely, Shelagh Carter’s Into Invisible Light asks us to imagine the same of ladies who lunch, who’ve given up their promise for lives of leisure.
Admittedly, that’s a glib precis of the plot of this dour, slow-moving film about a recently widowed rich man’s wife (Jennifer Dale, who also co-wrote the script). It’s the story of Helena, who tries to get her literary groove back while dealing with the romantic intentions of her (married) long-ago writer boyfriend Michael (Peter Keleghan) and her late husband’s business advisor David (Stuart Hughes).
But it’s hard to cheer for Helena, who only sort-of loved her husband, and seems paralyzed to take on even the sort of light philanthropic responsibilities he left her. Her muse seems to have been missing-in-action all these years without real cause except what her mother-in-law (Martha Henry) characterizes caustically by saying, “Don’t flatter yourself that your ambivalence is unique.”
It’s great seeing terrific, veteran Canadian actors like Dale, Henry and Kelleghan onscreen, in a story dedicated to characters of a certain age. But it’s disappointing to see them in a movie that seems undercooked in every way except its look. Props to cinematographer Ousama Rawi (The Tudors), who delivers whether a scene is in daylight, in dark, oaky academia or in strange, slo-mo black-and-white interstitial scenes in Helena’s bedroom where she experiences emotional catharsis in the style of a Calvin Klein Obsession ad.
There’s a ton of emotional weight written into the plot of Into Invisible Light that no one seems to feel. David lost a wife and child, Michael has a chronically absent wife and a daughter whose future seems to depend on a dance audition she’s about to perform for grant money.
People say angry things to each other, but never seem angry, as if they’re performing unfamiliar material in a workshop. It’s hard to imagine a man these days calling a woman “obtuse” (as David does to Helena) and then ‘splaining to her what the word means, without getting slapped. Michael also says horrible things to Helena without provoking much of a “scene.” (While we’re talking about how things happen in real life, what kind of college does Michael teach at, where none of the students are walking around looking at their phones?).
Everyone in the movie lives in a great house, even Michael, who complains about his books’ failure to sell, but has a weekend house by the lake to go with his great house. But possessions are a trap for Miranda, whose salvation is represented by a chance to read poetry at a strange coffee house full of well-dressed people.
Into Invisible Light could have used some lightness, just to change-up the mood. This is especially true when you know Peter Keleghan and his wicked wit. I kept expecting him to say something wry. Instead, things get increasingly dry as the movie wears on.
Into Invisible Light. Directed by Shelagh Carter. Starring Jennifer Dale, Peter Keleghan and Stuart Hughes. Opens Friday, Feb 1 in Toronto and Winnipeg.