Movie: Imaginary Heroes

Our Rating: 2.00

The weirdest aspect of the domestic dramedy Imaginary Heroes is wondering which elements writer/director Dan Harris could possibly have contributed to the script of X2: X-Men United. From the looks of it, he must have brought the angst. Cramming in 100 suburban tragedies where three or four would have sufficed, Harris' movie looks longingly down the shotgun barrel of one family's decades-long love affair with misery. The morbid curiosity with which Harris pokes through their preposterously complicated affairs makes Ordinary People look like the Christmas episode of Mr. Belvedere.

We've got teen suicide. We've got a resentful surviving sibling (Emile Hirsch). We've got a dad (Jeff Daniels) who's either being driven crazy by grief or is exploring new avenues of what Divine once called "asshole-ism." We've got neighborly feuding and matrimonial betrayal. And we've got same-sex mating urges that come out of nowhere, are acted upon and then just as quickly shrugged off – because hey, man, when the world is crumbling down around your ears, you gotta do what you gotta do.

And Sigourney Weaver's in the thing, for some inexplicable reason. As matriarch Sandy Travis, she comes on all steely stares and levied ultimatums, leading us to believe that the fight to retain a foothold in the home of this dragon queen is going to be the defining challenge for son Tim (Hirsch). But before you know it, Sandy is foolishly trying to drown her sorrows by buying pot from a head-shop employee – a sequence rendered with enough aw-shucks affection to foster our dawning awareness that she's actually supposed to be the picture's heroine, or something. It's too late. Harris has already committed the cardinal blunder of making everybody in his script unsympathetic for at least the first 10 minutes of screen time. Once an audience's compassion is lost to a filmmaker's urge to mock, it can never be regained. From the outset, we think we know why tortured oldest child Matt (Kip Pardue) offed himself in his upstairs room: We'd resort to drastic measures, too, to get away from this sorry bunch.

If I could watch Weaver in Heartbreakers, I guess I can watch her in Harris' dross – which is to say that Heroes isn't without its few inadvertent virtues. It's kind of fun to know that the actor playing a helpful convenience-store clerk is cult director Larry Fessenden (Habit, Wendigo). Otherwise, the only respite to be had from the mounting melancholia is to dwell on some of the movie's more nagging mysteries. Like why the beetle-browed Hirsch looks more like the offspring of Michael and Kitty Dukakis than Jeff Daniels and Sigourney Weaver. And why another family in the Travises' conservative-looking neighborhood is throwing a Christmas party that has a drag queen as its featured entertainment. Expect more questions than answers.