Personal Effects review (DVD)

Inspired by the short story Mansion on the Hill by Rick Moody, David Hollander's Personal Effects is a somewhat decent, unassuming romantic drama with tinges of comedy, but all at the same time very serious, dark undertones.

Protagonist Walter (Kutcher) is a 24-year-old amateur wrestler whose sister was brutally murdered at the time he was competing for a spot on the national team. The film details his personal journey as he tries to recover from the loss of his sister, who left behind a young daughter. The death lays ruin to Walter's life, leaving him shy, reserved and lonely, living with his persevering mother (Bates) and her granddaughter, and working in a chicken suit handing out leaflets outside a fast food restaurant. It is as he travels this emotionally-perilous road that he meets Michelle Pfeiffer's character, Linda, who not only has a deaf teenage son, but suffered the loss of her husband through murder. With so much in common to connect them in a world where they have alienated themselves with their own grief, Walter and Linda find solace in each others' presence and plant the seed for a romance to blossom.

The film is written well, so I have no qualms with the script, but it must have been one hell of a screenplay on paper to attract the attention of not only leading man Kutcher, but three-time Oscar nominated Pfeiffer and the Oscar-winning Kathy Bates. Especially when the film has gone straight-to-video. They both give strong performances as you would expect, and there's no signs of laziness if perhaps this film appealed to them as a way to make a quick buck. As for Ashton Kutcher, he's.... well, just the same old Ashton Kutcher. He's fine, but that's it — he comes off a little too stiff at times, which is no surprise, but at the same time it is probably one of his strongest performances next to The Butterfly Effect, although that isn't saying a whole lot. A respectable effort nonetheless from an actor who must have a penchant for the older woman: he's not only married to Demi Moore, who is 15 years his senior, but in the film, his love interest in the form of the mature, yet stunning Michelle Pfeiffer, is 20 years older! Just an observation to blur the lines between reality and fiction.

Personal Effects is a nice drama on a small scale, but it isn't anything to write home about. It's okay, that's about it. The little dashes of humour are slightly comedic, the drama satisfactorily dramatic, and the climax is pretty worthwhile and tense, although it suffers from adhering to cliches. 

EXTRAS ★ Just a 20-minute making of feature.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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