“Other Voices, Other Rooms”

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
Feb. 13, 1998

Joel (portrayed by David Speck)
Randolph (Lothaire Bluteau)
Amy (Anna Thomson)

Directed by David Rocksavage. Running time:  98 minutes.
Written by Sara Flanigan and Rocksavage, based on a novel by Truman Capote.
No MPAA rating (violence). Opening today at Facets Multimedia, 1517 W. Fullerton.

 

What good is imagination, if you dont have the guts to live it?

By the end of Other Voices, Other Rooms, a moody piece of cinema based on a novel Truman Capote wrote 50 years ago, young Joel has answered his own question.

Opening today for a one-week run at Facets Multimedia, Other Voices strikes a vivid picture of the Deep South in the 1930s.  Told from the point of view of the 13-year-old protagonist, the film presents the lushly disturbing story of a dysfunctional group of people thrown together by a set of tragic circumstances.

Abandoned by his father when he was four, Joel (David Speck) is orphaned when his mother dies. Unexpectedly, the introspective boy receives an invitation from his father to come live with him on a plantation.

The plantation turns out to be a dilapidated mess run by a seemingly well-mannered young woman named Amy (Anna Thomson) and her effete cousin Randolph (Lothaire Bluteau).  Equal parts Scarlett OHara and Miss Havisham (from Great Expectations), the strange creature explains to Joel that they eschew modern amenities such as running water and electricity. She is so convincing that it takes a while for the moviegoer to realize that its lack of funds — not just eccentricity — that drives them to such decisions.

For days, neither cousin will allow the boy to see his father. But nosying around the decaying mansion, Joel finds him bed ridden and unable to move or speak, the result of a tragic auto accident, according to Randolph.  Joel doesn’t notice his father’s flickering eyes or Randolph’s jittery nerves in each others presence. Or maybe he does, but he doesn’t want to jeopardize the kindness he has received from Randolph for a parent he hardly remembers.

Unaware that Amy is pocketing all the letters he writes to his aunt and best friend back home, he befriends a tomboy and the household servant, Zoo, who tells him, “When somebody needs you, it makes you feel mighty important. It makes you worth something.”

While he desperately wants to escape his strange surroundings, he also is wary of abandoning the father who had deserted him.

Speck is an intelligent young actor whose eyes are wise beyond his years. Just as Leonardo DiCaprio brought a range of raw emotions to his role in This Boys Life, Speck evokes pathos and playful charm, all the while escaping the cloying child actor syndrome of playing cute for the camera.

The cinematography is exquisite, slowly drawing the viewer into a different time. But director David Rocksavage’s flaw is trying too hard to draw a parallel between Capote and his work. He utilizes Bob Kingdom, an actor who portrayed the author on stage, to narrate the film. Unfortunately, Kingdom does too good a job and sounds more like a nervous old woman rather than a grown-up Joel.

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