J. K. Simmons stars in this heartfelt indie-drama focusing on loss and grief. Simmons plays Bill Palet, an ageing Maths teacher and recent widower after 30 years of marriage. Bill’s adolescent and sensitive son Wes (Josh Wiggins) is also struggling to come to terms with his mother’s sudden and early death. They uproot their lives in San Francisco and travel to Los Angeles where Bill has taken a job at a private school run by his old college friend Paul (Kevin Dunn) and where Wes is allowed to enrol as a student.
The film deals with grief in an affecting but ultimately predictable way. Although Bill has a job, a modest home and seemingly grounded son, he is a functioning depressive and one that throughout the film travels through peaks and troughs of emotion in an attempt to work through his grief. The film is stronger for having JK Simmons, one of Hollywood’s great character actors, leading the charge because the emotional plot points of the film, although ones that work, are ones that can also be seen from a mile away.
Wes doesn’t struggle to find some new friends at his school and although he starts off as ever so slightly bookish, he bonds easily with members of the Cross Country team and his narrative uses the idea of endurance well. The film also stars Odeya Rush as Lacey, a student known for being a promiscuous and a little bit wild and it’s clear she is holding on to some dark secrets. Wes’ French teacher, Carine (Julie Delpy) spots his fantastic ability in the subject and partners the pair up to be homework partners, a seemingly US tradition that only exists in movies as a vehicle to put two people in a (bed)room together. Both performances are good and the pair believable in their portrayals as two slightly off-kilter teenagers.
Simmons is likeable as Bill, seemingly fitting in well to his new job and the lavish surroundings but below the surface he is unable to keep it together. He does not channel any of the anger he showed in Whiplash, in fact, it is great to see Simmons able to give himself to a role that requires him to ‘break’ the character so we can see him at rock bottom. Psychiatry sessions, pills, electroshock treatment are all thrown Bill’s way during the course of the film and it is affecting to see, with Simmons clearly able to grab-a-hold on the central crux of the character so well.
The two intertwining love stories of the film, boosting both Palet men up and allowing the Carine and Lacey attempt to work through some of their faults is touching and although the ending does feel a little too chocolate box, I didn’t disapprove. The kind of the film The Bachelors’ is always going to have the ending it does. Writer-director Kurt Voelker does a good job with creating a humourous script, believable characters and scenarios with only the occasional touch of maudlin thrown in.
Still In Cinemas