Writer/Director Dan Harris, whose credits include penning two Bryan Singer helmed comic book adaptations (X2: X-Men United and the upcoming Superman Returns), creates this indie tale of Imaginary Heroes; rather than spitting out another form of the “super” kind. Nothing spells independent cinema like WASPy suburbanites with boatloads of issues, and Heroes has it. With fine performances from the leads, smart and witty dialogue, Imaginary Heroes is a pretty good movie, but has some moments that make it a little too dreary to actually grab your attention.
When local swimming sensation Matt Travis (Kip Pardue) commits suicide, the rest of the Travis family are left to deal with both the surrounding community and themselves. Sandy Travis (Sigourney Weaver) refuses to see doctors, lets her health deteriorate, and begins to raid her children’s “stash”. Penny Travis (Michelle Williams) sticks close to her college campus only coming home for holidays. Tim Travis (Emille Hirche), tries simply to forget the whole thing while the entire school grants their condolences at any given opportunity, his relationship with girlfriend dwindles, and his friendship with neighbor Kyle Dwyer(Ryan Donowho) gets simultaneously stronger and weaker. Travis patriarch Ben Travis (Jeff Daniels), takes Matt’s death quite practically the worst, spending his entire days on a park bench and nights in his dead son’s bed, Ben seems to grasp hating Tim more and more as Matt’s demise grows farther away. The film spans roughly the course of an entire school year, and as Tim comes to graduate high school he learns how to deal with life’s ups and downs by helping release all the Travis family skeletons from the closet.
The film belongs to Emille Hirche (The Girl Next Door). We follow his journey and unlock every little story detail through his eyes. The entire world knows the Travis history, but like him, we learn it all for the first time. Sigourney Weaver gives one of her finer performances. She handles playing the aged chain smoking, pill-popping, ex-soccer mom a little too easily. Daniels, who has been wasted since the mid-90's, appears as great support in the role of “Ben”. He’s both menacing and endearing while at the same time being remotely clueless. Three insanely rough balls to juggle, but Daniels can hold his own. The rest of the cast do brilliant jobs, but some of the tone was just a bit off.
Now...granted, the movie is about a family dealing with suicide but there is an insane amount of sarcasm sewn throughout the film that when it does take a serious tone it gets just a little too serious. The ingredients are there, but something happened in the baking process that makes this taste funny. The meant to be funny scenes are indeed funny, the levity is brilliant, but the awesome weight to the majority of the film makes it drag.
Imaginary Heroes twists and turns more times than Chubby Checker on a roller coaster during an earthquake. The big one around the end of the film will not only having you raising an eyebrow but also make you think back to previous scenes with an “Oh my God!”. It took clever writing and direction on Harris’ part to actually pull that all off without making it too weird.
Imaginary Heroes is a pretty good movie. It’s smart and quite original, so regardless of it being a bit off... I’ll go ahead and recommend it. The good parts outweigh the bad, yet it just seems like a little finer honing of the film’s overall tone would have made it decent Oscar bait for this time of year.