Recently I embarked on what was supposed to be a quick road trip from the Philadelphia suburbs to Boston.
Incorrectly assuming that my road partner knew the way, I treated Google Maps as a simple backup. As such, I didn’t realize that the app shut off during phone calls, and never bothered to turn it back on.
You know, like an idiot.
So I sat, iPhone in hand, listening to my excellently-curated road trip playlist containing a careful blend of old-school hip hop, show tunes, and electronic pop, waiting for a GPS message which would never come. Although Google Maps claims the drive should have been five hours long at the most, it becomes significantly longer (and more taxing on the friendship of the two road trip companions) when one drives for nearly 90 minutes in the wrong direction, and another 45 to correct that mistake.
I’m telling you this story because it has the same moral as watching The Confirmation: One boneheaded move, no matter how well-meaning, can absolutely and irreparably destroy a good situation, and you won’t even realize it’s happening until it’s too late.
The film stars Clive Owen as Walt, an alcoholic freelance carpenter who is watching his eight-year-old son Anthony (Jaden Lieberher) for the weekend while his newly-religious ex-wife (Maria Bello) and her new husband (Matthew Modine) go to a Catholic couple’s retreat for the weekend. Short on cash and facing eviction, Walt finally catches a break when he gets a lead on a high-paying custom furniture job, only to discover that all of his antique specialty woodworking tools have been stolen from his truck. You’d think that the rest of the story would involve the recovery of the tools, and it does, but in a roundabout, lackadaisical fashion. The film doesn’t feel too pressed to move the plot along, but instead happily moves into sidebars about Walt’s feelings about society, his drinking problems, and his begrudging acceptance of his ex’s new romance.
The Confirmation is directorial debut of Nebraska screenwriter Bob Nelson, and plays with a lot of the same themes. Father-son reconnections, small-town mentalities, economic disparity, and changing societal priorities are all covered, along with a backbone of Catholic guilt and doubt. This is where the darker comedy comes in, and also where the most real moments of the film occur. Owen excels as a man with demons and doubts without ever really letting that become the main focus of the film.
The best moments come from Owen, suffering from realistically-portrayed withdrawal, trying to explain religion to the spiritually-confused and metaphor-challenged Anthony. Anthony’s confusion also infuses the film with a fun mini-game, as the first time we see him, he is stumbling into confession without understanding its purpose and unable to recall any recent sins. We then spend the rest of the film mentally tracking the sins he racks up, leading to a payoff which is still good for a belly laugh despite being obvious and predictable.
But then there’s Patton Oswalt.
I like Oswalt a lot as an actor and generally consider him to be a reason to want to see a film. But here his brief appearance completely derails the film’s momentum like a lit match sucking the air out of a small room. Oswalt appears about halfway through as Drake, a friendly and mentally unhinged stoner who agrees to help Walt and Anthony look for the tools. He’s only got about 15 minutes of screentime in what is basically an extended cameo, but that’s enough time to change the direction of the film entirely. For that period, an entirely different film seems to take hold, a Planes, Trains, and Automobiles-esque buddy comedy with Patton Oswalt in the John Candy role. I’m not saying I wouldn’t watch that film, but it’s not the film I’d been watching for the past 45 minutes, nor is it what this movie turns into. Much like my Google Maps error, this accidental detour can never be fully recovered from, and it eliminates the tone of the good time we were all having.
From that point on, The Confirmation loses any semblance of pacing, constantly feeling like it should be wrapping up when there’s still an entire third act left in the movie. Walt starts to feel a little more like an irrational bully than a put-upon victim, and the ultimate location and resolution of the missing tools feels forced and unsatisfying. The story overstays its welcome, and it’s not a particularly long movie. It’s not often that you can point to one specific moment where everything goes wrong like this, but the timeline works. Playing like a poor(er)-man’s Nebraska but lacking Alexander Payne’s sense of story direction, The Confirmation is half of a great movie that I hope serves as a foundation to be learned from and built upon.Liked This? Share It!