All reunion movies are the same – just as all reunion stories are different.
The movies contain similar elements and themes: people at a certain place in their lives, spending time with people who knew them at a younger, more idealistic, carefree or vulnerable time. Time the conqueror has worked its changes; 10 or 20 years later, everyone has disappointments, bitterness, lost dreams and secrets to go with the carefully constructed life they’ve created for themselves.
But reunions also bring us face to face with a part of our past we know nothing about: the memories, impressions and perceptions of who we were, as harbored by those who knew us when. Anyone who’s been to a reunion has had that experience: “Wow, I remember you as being so …” “Me? Really?”
So it is with Alan Hruska’s “Reunion,” a movie that will inevitably be compared to “The Big Chill” but which has nothing to do with that film’s baby-boomer nostalgia for bygone activist days. It shares the theme of long-time friends seeing each other in middle age and confronting their sense of who they’ve become. But again, that’s true of virtually any reunion story.
The group that reunites in this film gathers at the New York law office of Jake (Brett Cullen). It’s been 10 years since the death of Jake’s wife, Janey, a touchstone for the group with whom, it seems, everyone had a romantic moment at some point or another. They’ve gathered to hear the reading of a letter that was meant to be opened on the10thanniversary of her death – but only after a kind of encounter-group session like the ones they used to have in college.
The “program” is part confession, part self-analysis, part personality-dissection by the group. But everyone who’s there, it seems, has another agenda: specifically, to see whether their own lives are better/happier/more enviable than the long-time college friends they never see anymore.
The missing person – and topic of conversation – is Janey. They all still bear her scars – whether it’s fantasies or resentments about her – along with jealousies and envy and crushes for other members of the group.
‘Reunion’ is provocative and thoughtful, a movie that can’t help but make you take a long look at yourself. It’s obviously written and directed with great care and feeling and features a terrific cast of outstanding actors in some of the meatiest roles of their careers.
Though these characters aren’t above flaying each other verbally, Hruska’s dialogue is gentler than you’d expect. Given what seems to lurk beneath the surface, this is a surprisingly empathetic group, more interested in helping each other come to terms than in hurling recriminations about the past. The dialogue is adult and intelligent, showing that, even in middle age, it’s not too late to let go of old hurts and focus on appreciating – rather than resenting – where you are.
Hruska’s minimal plot eventually dead-ends because it can’t figure out how to end. After all the talk about Janey’s letter, we’re never treated to its contents. It’s a McGuffin – but one to which the film never circles back for any sort of explanation. It seems like a serious oversight to simply ignore it.
Still, “Reunion” is that rarity: a movie about ideas and feelings, told thoughtfully, with strong acting by an ensemble cast that includes Christopher McDonald, Jamey Sheridan, Cynthia Stevenson and Amy Pietz. At this time of year, that’s a rarity worth supporting.