We Need to Talk About Kevin, 2011.
Written and Directed by Lynne Ramsay.
Starring Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly and Ezra Miller.
A mother must deal with the grief of raising a son who goes on a high school killing spree.
With 14 awards under its belt (although snubbed of the BAFTA this past weekend), a lot could be expected from We Need to Talk about Kevin. These awards range from a British Independent Film Award for Best Director, to a Best Actress award for Tilda Swinton, awarded by the National Board of Review (USA). Needless to say, this film has been talked up left right and centre, and I did my best to avoid the praise before watching the film myself. I often feel disappointed by such high appraisal, because you go in with the highest of expectations, and as the credits roll you feel that it is often undeserving.
We Need to Talk About Kevin follows Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton), Kevin’s mother. A tormented soul, Eva is plagued by the flashbacks of her son’s undoing and the ways in which she is perhaps to blame for his behaviours. As a young boy, Kevin is unresponsive to Eva, who seems to very quickly give up in her endeavours to teach him and deal with his outlandish behaviour. As Kevin grows older, Eva and her son are not close at all, with Franklin (John C. Reilly), the boy’s father, being the favoured parent. Even when Kevin gets a little sister, and Eva gets a child who is responsive and dependent on her, the situation only worsens.
The storytelling technique in We Need to Talk About Kevin unfortunately fails to carry the narrative in the most appropriate and engaging manner. As I have not read the book on which the film is based, I’m not sure whether the novel addresses the storyline in the same way, but visually, flashbacks are often a fairly effective device, although here the viewer is left confused, and not hooked as intended. We are meant to be engaged enough to be eager to find out what Kevin has done for it all to go wrong, but it is not until past the half-way point in the film that the narrative snaps into a position where we are no longer disoriented. This is because we are flittering between life before the ‘bad thing’, the ‘bad thing’ itself, and life after the ‘bad thing’. The story could have easily been told in a more logical order to the same or to have increased effect.
Despite this, the film still does manage to engage you to some degree. At times nearer the beginning I found myself almost bored, willing the plot to progress (an effective narrative should still leave you waiting for more, but not have you checking your watch in anticipation) – however, as the plot tidied itself up a bit, it does become more interesting.
Tilda Swinton has received a lot of positive feedback on her portrayal of a travel writer who has to give up her dreams to raise a son who wants nothing to do with her, even during the ages of dependency. The film at times seems to me to pray on a mother’s nightmare of not being a good parent, and not connecting with their child. She plays this character well in my opinion, but is not the ‘star’ of the film, even if she is the centre of it. Ezra Miller, who plays the eldest Kevin character from his teenage years, does a fantastic job of playing someone so obviously twisted, but in an understated (and therefore arguably creepier) manner than a pantomime villain. An actor perhaps best known for being Will Ferrell’s sidekick in Stepbrothers (2008) or Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006), John C. Reilly too does a great job of playing the father figure. It may not be his first straight role, but when I saw his name on the posters months ago, I did feel it was an odd casting. I was absolutely proved wrong though, and he makes for an endearing character that may be in the background a little, but certainly shines in his performance.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is certainly an interesting look at motherhood from a unique and unflinching perspective, but it misses the mark a little with some odd narrative choices. It takes the innocence of childhood and creates a little monster, but still I didn’t find myself sympathising towards the mother character, as she certainly made some poor choices and seemed to give up a little too easily on her son.
Even with a somewhat disappointing ending (through the use of an awful last shot of Eva walking through a corridor towards the light of the outside, in what I can only assume is symbolic for some sort of freedom, or new life beginnings), this film is not a bad one. It is however a pretty average one. It should leave the audience thinking about what they have witnessed, but I have to admit as the credits flashed up on the screen, I was left thinking and feeling very little.
The Blu-ray release features interviews with the cast, as well as the theatrical trailer.