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The Big Shrill: Alan Hruska's "Reunion"

By Leo Goldsmith | Indiewire March 6, 2009 at 1:37AM

[An indieWIRE review from Reverse Shot.]
2

[An indieWIRE review from Reverse Shot.]

Any movie that takes shadowy, Ivy League-based secret societies as its subject is bound to pique a certain amount of curiosity. At best, one hopes for the mesmerizing creepiness of "Eyes Wide Shut"; at minimum, the camp, byzantine schlock of "The DaVinci Code." Alan Hruska's "Reunion" starts out with a promising premise: a get-together of a handful of veterans of a society apparently modeled on Skull and Bones, the clandestine, Yale-based boy's club whose alumni reportedly include at least three U.S. Presidents (including both Bushes), a Supreme Court Justice, a laundry list of ambassadors, governors, senators, and titans of finance and industry, and William F. Buckley. It's already been the subject of at least one film, the 2000 thriller "The Skulls," directed by the guy who made the last "Mummy" sequel.

Unfortunately, Hruska's film mines this secret society less for its potential as an elitist, quasi-Luciferian organization and more for its (probably more true-to-life) status as a silly, ritualistic group therapy program for the powerful. Once the film has assembled its dozen or so vaguely indistinguishable main characters -- a process that takes up the interminable first ten minutes of the film -- the predominant themes of wealth and whining are established. There's Jake the nice-seeming corporate lawyer, Sadie the sharkish Hollywood agent, Barney the erstwhile star-linebacker-cum-drunk, and a token Jewish doctor named Saul. Most of them have slept with at least one other member of the group (and can't get over it), and all are rich, successful, and self-hating. Lloyd is the really rich member of the group, a cocky real-estate mogul with dyed-black hair who flies in on a private jet with his blonde, f-bombing movie-star wife, Minerva (!). Early on, she thoughtfully glosses some backstory for us in flat expository dialogue: the members of this group were once all "superstar undergraduates out to change the world," before the imperatives of being white and privileged took precedence. Three of them have even turned their incestuous Yale years into laundry-airing bestsellers.

This last detail is particularly telling, as Alan Hruska is himself a Yalie, a Bonesman, and a Manhattan renaissance man. For over 40 years Hruska was an attorney at the second oldest law firm in the country before going on to doing things like co-founding Soho Press, writing a novel and some plays, and eventually making movies. "Reunion," his third film, is a thinly veiled mash-up of all of this material, with an ensemble cast of veteran stage and TV actors (many recognizable, few memorable here) going through the motions of a "Big Chill" for the extremely wealthy.

This acting is generally serviceable, though the script is little help, routinely demanding that characters say things like "Power is either internally or externally referential. I'll bet yours is the former" and "You've made her out to be some kind of hypersensitive empath!" And the cinematography ranges from television-grade to downright amateurish, with visible boom-poles and utterly pointless tracking. A relentless Brahms score telegraphs the film's attempted level of sophistication, but fails to counterbalance the fact that, for a good three quarters of the film, we are holed up in the unremittingly dull and ugly setting of a midtown Manhattan corporate boardroom, complete with harsh neon lighting and a kitchenette with banks of donuts and Diet Cokes in the background. Here, the characters take turns reciting their biographies at length and ripping each other apart, pausing occasionally to snap their fingers beatnik-syle, a secret society form of applause.

While it's not hard to conjecture how this film was financed, it's a wonder a group of experienced film professionals could not make "Reunion" look and sound the least bit proficient or even entertaining (even with the addition of a third-act food-fight and bra-on sex-scene), which is especially dispiriting in an economic climate that's becoming increasingly difficult for independent film. For audiences actually interested in the history of this kind of ridiculous, narcissistic group therapy, I suggest you stream Adam Curtis's brilliant BBC documentaries "The Century of the Self" and "The Trap" online instead of bothering with Mr. Hruska's film. For everyone else, rent "The Skulls." It might at least be funny.

[Leo Goldsmith is Reverse Shot staff writer, as well as an editor at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.]

This article is related to: In Theaters





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