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Rating: PG-13 (Strong language, some senuality and teen drinking)
Running Time: 92 minutes
Starring: Peter Gallagher, Claire Danes, Kathy Baker, Wendy Crewson, Bruce Atlman and Michelle Pfeiffer
Screenplay by: David E.
Directed by: Michael Pressman
Retail Price: $24.95
Features: Theatrical Trailers
Specs: 1.33:1 Full Screen, English Dolby Digital 5.0 Surround, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (28 Scenes)
Released: May 7th, 2002
David Lewis (Peter Gallagher) lost his wife Gillian (Michele Pfeiffer) two years ago in a sailboat accident (on her birthday no less), and has never been the same. Since then, he has isolated himself from the real world and has become too involved with his own illusions. He still thinks that Gillian is alive, and he has visions of the two playing on the beach and kissing. David's daughter, Rachel (Claire Danes) is becoming worried about her father's antics, not to mention that she's being rather neglected. To make things a bit more complicated, David's sister-in-law Esther (Kathy Baker) and her husband Paul (Bruce Altman) set-up a blind date for David. It's now time for the characters to learn what each one needs and learn about themselves in hopes to move on.
Based on the play by Michael Brady, David E. Kelly, known for creating what seems to be one hundred new series each year and then writing thousands of episodes for his own series, wrote the screenplay. I think "To Gillian On Her 37th Birthday" is one of Kelly's best writing efforts for the silver screen, however, I really don't think that's saying much. Sure, the man is brilliant in creating television shows and writing nearly every episode for them. I still am one to believe Kelly should stick to his day jobs. Look at everything Kelly's written for film: Lake Placid, "Mystery, Alaska" among a few other things. I think his problem in creating scripts is cramming too much. The luxury of television work is that each week for 40 odd minutes (that excludes commercials of course) he has new stories to tell, develop continuing plotlines and expand on the characters. Unless it's a one trick movie like "Gillian," there's not much room for a sequel to explore things further in a franchise, so everything has to fit in an hour and a half.
I know that "To Gillian On Her 37th Birthday" has gotten some rather mediocre reviews, but I actually like this movie. I'm not saying it's the greatest film of all time, but I think it's a bit underrated. I'm a giant fan of character dramas, and there's a lot of drama and interesting characters with their own needs to be found here. I do enjoy it and become intrigued when characters must overcome their own demons and their pasts. Thankfully, the characters are quite unique and each have their own purposes in the drama. Perhaps what makes it so interesting is that they keep ignoring one another, thinking they know what's right, whereas they need to know about each other.
As you'd expect from Kelly, there is some great dialogue. However, the flaws in his screenplay cannot be ignored. It simply has some elements it doesn't need, and some of the scenes feel a bit like filler and serve no purpose except to expand the characters more, but that more or less backfires. The movie does a lot of good in stressing the characters own flaws, sadness and their needs. However, in putting them together, it becomes a bit jumbled. Everything has the need to be further fleshed out and further expanded on, and everything seems wrapped up too much and too late.
Not to say it's all bad, because it's not. As I said, Kelly does do a good job of setting the characters up and making it all go through well. I suppose it just needed more of the direct effects. There are certainly some touching scenes which may be like clichés to some, but I enjoyed them, probably because they work. I suppose I also like the lessons and themes the film offers, dealing with illusion and reality, the loss of love, moving on and people trying to help one another (it sorta sounds like my own book). Still, how the characters learn about their needs and moving on, coming to terms with it all is expressed nicely.
The movie has a few laughs, but it's still a drama. Perhaps I like the movie is because of Michael Pressman, who has directed Kelly's own television series. Pressman gives the film a nice pace, but more importantly, it felt refreshing to me. It feels very warm and pretty touching, and has a natural, human feel as it shows human natures and realistic characters (sometimes we do get lost in our own fantasies). Adding to the mix is a fabulous score that fits right in from composer James Horner.
The film is also a cut above to me because it's well cast. The actors do such a marvelous job of bringing the story to life. Claire Danes shows a great amount of poise in this role and great delivery as well as interactions with the other actors. Bruce Altman and Kathy Baker share wonderful chemistry (I'd believe they were a real couple), while Wendy Crewson and Michelle Pfieffer offer nice supporting roles. Still, Peter Gallagher is truly tremendous and wonderful as David. Lost in his fantasies and isolated from reality, Gallagher does a very good job in this movie. There's a sense of craziness in him, but a true sense of sadness. The chemistry between all the actors is fabulous. This is one fine ensemble (plus Freddie Prinze, Jr. in his first major film role!).
Given this movie didn't do so well at the box office and has long been ignored, I do suggest if you're into drama with light comedy, the film is worth looking into. Unfortuantly, for its DVD debut, Columbia has given it a shabby treatment with full screen only and no real extras to speak of besides trailers. Nonetheless, it's worth checking out since it does entertain and is pretty short in length.
And here comes the butchering. For some reason, Columbia/Tri-Star has put forth a new policy where they will only be releasing movies in full frame. Perhaps some of these movies us home theater enthusiasts have no interest in, so instead of putting out both aspect ratios on a single disc, they're only giving us full screen sometimes just to please the mainstream audience. It's annoying yes, and "To Gillian On Her 37th Birthday" is one of the first titles for this policy. A shame, really. I would have loved to see this movie in widescreen.
So yes, you get the 1.33:1 full screen aspect ratio. Beyond the disappointment of that though, this is actually a very solid transfer that is pleasing to the eye. There are some blemishes, scratches and pieces of dirt on the print, plus some really slight shimmering and noise. Despite that, there is really good detail, bold color saturation and very nice fleshtones. However, the movie appears faded and soft at times, but I believe this is intentional, especially during the fantasy sequences with Gillian. Still, solid stuff... despite the full screen ratio.
The only track included here is an English Dolby Digital 5.0 surround track, and it is actually quite impressive. True, there is no .1 LFE support, but it's not really needed. James Horner's excellent score sounds wonderful through the channels, while dialogue is crisp and clear. Every sound here is balanced and doesn't interfere with one another. The film also has good surround effects, such as on the boat toward the start of the film, people calling, the driving scene toward the movie, the loud music and the painful flashback of Gillian's death. Nice stuff overall, and it works quite well. Overall, a very pleasant experience that really embodies the movie. Also included are English subtitles, French subtitles and English closed captions.
We're treated to Theatrical Trailers. One for "To Gillian On Her 37th Birthday," one for "My Life" and the other for "The Age Of Innocence." All are in full frame and two channel sound.
"To Gillian On Her 37th Birthday" is a fine character drama that has its flaws, but is very nice overall. The DVD sadly only has a full screen transfer, but it looks nice and the 5.0 English surround track is very nice too. Too bad there are no extras. Still, it's worth a rental if you've never seen it and it's worth picking up if you're a fan of the film.