In his debut feature as director, actor Stephen Moyer (True Blood, The Double) offers a decently put together and beautifully acted family drama which seems to tick all the right boxes thematically, but sadly fails to completely convince due to its overwrought and slightly-too-meandering screenplay. Written by actor turned screenwriter Denis O’Hare (True Blood, American Horror Story), The Parting Glass follows a day in the life of a group of adult siblings and their father, as they come to terms with the tragic death of their troubled youngest sister, played by Moyer and O’Hare’s HBO True Blood co-star Anna Paquin (The Piano, Jane Eyre).
The film opens on a scene which sees Mare (Cynthia Nixon) driving her Sister Al (Melissa Leo) and their actor brother Daniel (Denis O’Hare) to meet their father (Ed Asner) as they make their way to their recently deceased sister Colleen (Paquin)’s apartment in a small Missouri town to help pack her belongings. Joined by Colleen’s estranged husband Karl (Rhys Ifans), the disjointed convoy of over-talkative and scrapping mourners moves at a slow pace making frequent pit-stops to argue and bicker some more. On their way, secrets are revealed and tempers fly as Karl comes to realise that he has never really been considered part of the family and finds himself constantly shut out by their in-jokes and cliquey behaviour towards him.
Perhaps the most positive aspects of the film is its unwillingness to spell out everything for its audiences. Manoeuvring the big event with a huge deal of tenderness towards their protagonists, Moyer and O’Hare succeed in instilling a sense of realism to the proceedings, all the while allowing their cast ample freedom to interpret their roles the way they chose to. While this sometimes results in a degree of self-indulgent overacting, mostly from O’Hare himself, the rest of the film benefits greatly from its free-flowing dialogue and adlibs.
With frequent use of flashbacks featuring Paquin, whom Moyer chose to film in an almost ethereal fashion with her face never quite fully on screen, The Parting Glass does a great job in delivering a great story, but is ultimately let down by its overly sentimental and rather indulgent denouement which, if one is completely honest, could have arrived at least 15 minutes earlier.
Overall, the film presents a perfect showcase for some of the most accomplished actors of their generation, and is further elevated by the simplicity of its subject matter. Having said that, it would have been far more efficient to have add little more structure to the story. In any case, and for a first feature from both writer and director, The Parting Glass does exactly what is expected from it, even if it fails to completely convince in the end.