It took me a little while to find my groove with SNOW ANGELS. While I was on board with everything that I was seeing from the very first shot, I had that weird hyper-sensitive inability to suspend my disbelief that happens when you watch a friend's film for the first time, rough cut or otherwise. But there's a nine-minute sequence that happens towards the middle that officially pushed me over the edge and had me frozen in shock and awe, which is where I stayed for the rest of the film. SNOW ANGELS feels like a modern classic to me, a book adaptation gone terrifically right, a somber, painfully realistic portrait of small town life that never succumbs to outright hopelessness. Whereas a movie like IN THE BEDROOM won't allow for humor to enter its sphere, for that would 'lessen the overall dramatic impact', David is a sensitive enough person to realize that a story like this desperately needs humor to keep it from drowning in total misery. There is an extended barroom dance scene that transcends even that surface level injection of humor. At the beginning, it's merely funny, with a candlelit birthday cake on a pinball machine, a strange woman dressed as Freddy Krueger shuffling around, and Sam Rockwell ordering her and another lonely man to dance. But the longer the shot holds, the sadder it becomes, until the heartbreaking profundity of it sneaks up on you and makes you want to cry. That shot is more Bela Tarr than Gus Van Sant's entire death trilogy combined. With SNOW ANGELS, David Gordon Green has hit a new crescendo and proven that he is one of American cinema's most compassionate, extraordinary voices.
As for the technical specs, Tim Orr once again knocks the photography out of the park. Almost every scene ends with a dolly past the action, or a pan to a seemingly insignificant object, reinforcing the sense of loss and aimlessness in these character's lives. David Wingo and Jeff McIlwain's score is emotional but never melodramatic (the nine-minute sequence is especially moving). Christof Gebert's sound mixing is top-notch as usual. And the performances are all lived in, honest, and affecting.
I'm aching to see that nine-minute sequence again, which probably won't happen for a while. Even if I went to the Friday night showing, it might have been too quick of a turnaround to attend the Saturday screening. For SNOW ANGELS is a work that requires some time to sink in. I'm writing it the morning after and I feel like it will be haunting me for many weeks to come.
Warner Independent isn't releasing the film until the spring of 2008 (April, I think), which means that it's looking like SNOW ANGELS and David's next film, THE PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, will be coming out within months of each other. All I've heard are stories from PINEAPPLE, and while I can't say for sure how brilliantly retarded that movie will be, I still feel like the one-two punch of SNOW ANGELS and THE PINEAPPLE EXPRESS will be even more mind-blowing than the one-two punches of Coppola (THE GODFATHER II, THE CONVERSATION) and Soderbergh (ERIN BROCKOVICH, TRAFFIC). An intimate, yet epic, small-town tragedy and a big-budget stoner action comedy. And if I could only tell you what David's next film might be, you wouldn't know how to wrap your head around that one. I still can't. Though if things "work out" (nobody's sure if it's a good idea or a dangerous one), you'll be reading about it on front pages everywhere sooner than later.