First time film director Joseph Greco has created a tour de force with Canvas. It tales a long hard look at how mental illness, in this case schizophrenia affects not only the sufferer but the whole family. The Marino’s are at first sight a very normal family, John (Joe Pantoliano) is a hard working and conscientious father, Mary (Marcia Gay Harden)  is the stay at home mom, baking cakes, and doing all the things that any housewife does. Ten year old Chris (Devon Gearhart) is the precocious, yet polite son.

Beneath the surface though the family is unraveling, Mary has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, a disease not covered by the families HMO. With medical bills piling up, and Mary’s increased rejection of recognizing her problem something has to snap. And that comes in the form of a psychotic bout that results in police intervention. Mary finds herself institutionalized, Chis feels disenfranchised and ridiculed by his peers, and father John withdraws into his own world, finding escape in building a sail boat.

It would be easy to take this plot over the top, but Joseph Greco does not, his style is subtle, underplayed, and deadly effective. Everyone in the cast does a fabulous job, the tension reaches out and touches you. Devon Gearhart’s portrayal of 10 year old Chris is masterful. Working with children is not always the easiest for a movie maker and often the results are overblown and unbelievable characters, that is not the case here, the performance is stunning for such a young man. I am sure that we have not seen the last of Devon Gearhart, in fact I’ll bet that in a few years time he will be a household name.

Casting Oscar winning actress Marcia Gay Harden as Mary was a masterstroke, the part could have been written for her. In real life I work with people that suffer from schizophrenia and it’s associated offshoots, and Marcia nails it! Moving from lucid to manic in the bat of an eye, oblivious of reality, “Let’s move back to the other Florida” she implores her husband.

Joe Pantoliano (John Marino) is one of the very best character actors in the business, and with over 100 movies under his belt it is easy to see why he is a much sought after asset in the industry. He skillfully provides the glue to the story. We watch as he hovers on the brink of reality, will he sink or swim? Can this dysfunctional family ever find a solution?

Canvas has won numerous awards, and it justly deserves them, the cinematography is superb, the musical score worthy of a CD release, the direction and production flawless, and the plot line absorbing. I am indebted to author (and co-producer) Alan Rolnick for telling me about Canvas. I cannot understand why this movie was not a smash box office hit, but there again, the movie industry is a fickle one at best. Canvas hits your local video outlet January 29, and if you only buy just one movie this year, make sure it is this one!

You can also order it through the official web site or through Amazon.
Jan, my co-reviewer, wife, and general boss around here, was glued to this movie! So we both give it the highest rating possible, on a scale of 1 to 10, this is an 11.

Simon Barrett

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