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Half-Life (DVD Review)

30 Oct, 2009 By: Billy Gil

Prebook 11/3/09; Street 12/29/09
$24.95 DVD
Not rated.

Half-Life starts with its lead character, Pam, staring into the sun and jumping off a roof. Dysfunctional doesn’t begin to describe her home life.

Misunderstood Pam is like a walking zombie after her father, a pilot, flies into the sunset and never returns, leaving her, her mother and Pam’s younger brother. Pam’s mother, Saura, shacks up with a younger man, the assistant manager at a sporting goods store.

Pam basically has to raise herself and her young brother, Tim, as her increasingly oblivious and irritable mother shoves them away to spend time with her young lover. The fact that he makes inappropriate comments to the children is lost on Saura. Meanwhile, Pam pines for her best friend, Scott, a gay adoptee to a couple of religious nuts that rehearse baptisms on Scott in the hot tub.

Half-Life is an affecting film about what can happen to a family when its patriarch leaves for no apparent reason, but it sometimes bites off more than it is ready to digest. Pam and Tim are realistically created as withdrawn, neglected youths who act out in search of love. The film touches on issues of sexuality and race (the family and Scott are Asian-American) without being obvious. But the film can’t help but stereotype Scott as a miscreant who brings up his rectum in defiance to his adoptive parents, who are themselves typecast (albeit funnily) as clueless worshippers, while Saura is pure Joan Crawford as Dragon Lady.

The film builds an impressive amount of tension, but the surreal ending will leave viewers split — I felt like it was a cop out. The best parts are the small moments shared by Pam and Tim and Pam and Scott, as well as the dreamlike, Waking Life-style animated sequences that creep into the narrative.   

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