DVD Review – Foster (2011)

Foster, 2011.

Directed by Jonathan Newman.
Starring Toni Collette, Ioan Gruffudd, Maurice Cole, Richard E. Grant and Hayley Mills.

SYNOPSIS:

A married couple struggling to conceive a child decide to visit a foster home. They are quickly approved to take care of a child, who isn’t exactly your average youngster.

Foster is the anti-thesis for all the brash multiplex blockbusters of the summer. Something to calm everything down (despite the fact I’ve just bought The Avengers on DVD). It’s one of those movies that relies on story and characters without high budgets, effects and spectacle, with the acting and original concepts being used exclusively to draw you in instead. Foster is a surprising one because it works on the levels where you thought it may fall whilst failing where you’d expect it to hold steady.

In terms of concept, Foster is intriguing. Zooey and Alec (Collette and Gruffudd) have been married a few years but, ever since something that’s only referred to as ‘the accident’, they haven’t been able to have kids. Now while ‘the accident’ could be something quite hilarious (Piranha 3DD and American Pie suddenly come to mind for some reason), this is a film based on the real world. For example, part of the drama comes from Alec’s struggle with the recession and his toy business. They go to a foster home and apply to take on a child as their own.

And then suddenly one pops up at their front door.

Something is obviously different about this child (Eli, played with charm and humour by Maurice Cole), because he watches the news and comments on world finance and all that other stuff kids aren’t supposed to do (I think getting Zooey and Alec to turn up the song ‘Venus’ by Shocking Blue is a crime as well).

Cole isn’t your annoying variety of child on film and plays Eli with sophistication and warmness. There is the overall feeling of SPOILERS! Sorry, I just had a flashback to when I ruined the ending of The Sixth Sense for my mate. Apparently M. Night Shyamalan does indeed end up directing cartoons for Nickelodeon. Anyway, the feeling that Eli is supernatural and somehow testing the married couple doesn’t go away. Especially after his micro Patrick Bateman speech about getting ready in the morning, breaking the fourth wall and letting us know he’s not your average kid.

There are other spoiler-ish elements that crop up in the film which I won’t discuss in great detail, but rest assured you will probably see them coming (What’s in the room? Why is she throwing up? etc.) The lack of mystery led to me thinking of each problem as not some immense emotional or physical struggle for the characters themselves, more of a problem that just needed a scene to happen to resolve.

Collette’s and Gruffudd’s performances are good. Gruffudd seems to switch between a London accent and a Welsh one after the midpoint though, which was often distracting enough to bring me out of the film. Collette seems the more capable and engaging, though this may be down to the type of character Gruffudd is playing. Alec is much more detached, leading to Zooey bonding quickly with Eli.

Richard E. Grant also features as a homeless man who only seems to be given time by Alec and Zooey because he’s played by Richard E Grant. His character is strange to the point of troubling and while I would give him the time of day if he asked for it (if the magical fairies didn’t have a watch on them at the time, presumably) I questioned why Zooey wasn’t more alarmed that this man had made a note of her comings and goings and of her address.

This links in to the real life elements meets fairytale/spiritual elements. The reason I bring this part up is because they didn’t always quite mesh in a believable way. While as a premise it seemed to work, the story seemed to go from fantastical scenes talking about mystical beings to Alec trying to convince his factory workers to work for nothing for just a few more days.

I know the message was probably ‘Just stick together and everything’ll be alright’, it didn’t seem convincing enough. It just gave a movie with adult themes (the aforementioned accident, the recession) and gave it a childlike tone, which actually lessened the impact of each knock back, making their fight less of a struggle in life and more of an inconvenience that needed bypassing.

The flow and recreation of scenes at the end need special mention though as they were a very neat touch, giving a little extra something to twists you may see coming from a while off. This means the twist at the end which wasn’t really a twist was at least entertaining and wrapped up the story pretty well.

Overall, it’s a neat little story. That’s all that can be said though. The production values, like the acting and the story, are good enough but, probably as expected with a movie of this budget, aren’t anything spectacular. Money doesn’t buy you good stories though, and that is what shines most brightly in Foster, along with Maurice Cole giving the film a much needed dose of humour to make things interesting.

There are some small parts to the movie that make me think it possibly deserves more than just one viewing, but the first layer of narrative isn’t engaging enough to tempt me in again. It’s just a shame things weren’t excellent, as opposed to just good.

Flickering Myth Rating: Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★

Matt Smith