Alan Gilsenan’s adaptation of Pulitzer Prize–winning author Carol Shields’ final novel, Unless, tells the story of a mother’s struggle to reach a daughter who seems lost to her.
An accomplished writer and translator, Reta Winters (Catherine Keener) is dumbfounded after the recent actions of her eldest daughter, Norah (Hannah Gross). For no clear reason, Norah has dropped out of university to spend her days panhandling on the sidewalk outside of Toronto landmark Honest Ed’s. She holds a cardboard sign with only one word: “Goodness”.
Reta and family are unable to figure out what to do or how to best help Norah ‘come out’ of this state of mind. They consider all possible reasons, including some kind of trauma or mental health concern. But who is to say Norah isn’t searching for a way to connect with herself and the world? There are no clear answers.
The audience is forced to sit through this uncomfortable journey with Reta, Norah, and their family. At times, the perplexity of the situation is distractingly frustrating to watch – as is its pacing. The other distracting aspect of the film is its score — simply put, too heavy.
Having not read the book, I relied solely on Gilsenan’s screenplay for the meat of the story. In this case, I wish I had read the book first. I felt I was missing the connection with the characters and their story. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the fact the film was shot entirely in Toronto.
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