In the beginning of “Louder Than Words,” which releases to limited theaters on Aug. 1, the narrator informs the viewer that “this is not a sad story.” And she should know because she’s the one who died and she knows the outcome of the story. Also, she says the music should be another indicator that this is a happy tale.
It’s off-putting to have some beyond-the-grave narration in a film that’s supposed to be a true story. If the viewer is told to not feel sad by the person who dies 30 minutes in, how should he or she feel throughout the rest of the movie? Come on, movie; the viewer needs to know.
While Olivia Steele-Falconer does well with her portrayal of Maria Fareri, her narrating of the story comes across as pretentious. It’s like director Anthony Fabian keeps reassuring the viewer that even though Maria is gone, she is still with us – even to those who didn’t know her. And the viewer hasn’t even seen what happened to the late teenager – let alone be properly introduced.
Maria gives the viewer an overview of how her father John (portrayed by David Duchovny) came to build the children’s hospital after which she was named. But before we see how that came about, we see her family and what happened to her.
Maria describes herself as “the glue” of the family, since she is the one who keeps everyone together. There’s her father, her mother, Brenda (Hope Davis), and Brenda’s triplets from a previous marriage. They are Steph (Adelaide Kane), Michael (Ben Rosenfield), and Julie (Morgan Griffin).
During a camping trip, Maria gets bitten by a bat and contracts a rare case of rabies. She dies a few days later. But, remember, the viewer was told that this isn’t a sad story, so there shouldn’t be any crying by the time she passes.
The family struggles with Maria’s death, and John and Brenda seem to come close to a divorce. But when John discovers that Maria’s final notebook entry was that she wished to help the children of the world, he makes plans to build a children’s hospital in her honor.
While the real story is tragic and what follows is uplifting, “Louder Than Words” doesn’t come across that way. Through flashbacks, we see all the time Maria and her father spent together. The more emotional the film tries to be, the blurrier the flashbacks look. Even some of the hospital scenes are so awkwardly filmed that whatever emotions they are supposed to convey are absent.
There are good intentions in “Louder Than Words,” but this is more of a bland effort than an effective one. Duchovny has proven to be great with his work in “The X-Files” and the recently-ended “Californication.” Trying to play sentimental seems to be a bit of a struggle for him here. You can’t really blame him, though, since the script mostly calls for him to remain silent.
Timothy Hutton does fine work as the friend of John who lends a hand with the project. Davis delivers a solid performance as the struggling mother, too. It’s not so much the performances that are the problem; it’s the direction. And that lies in the hands of Fabian, who seems to keep pushing the film toward Hallmark Channel territory without going over the line.
So much of the story gets rushed so it can get to the fact about the children’s hospital being built. A lot of the legal battles are mentioned but don’t go much further than that. The family’s struggle is grazed over and the stale dialogue doesn’t help at all. One character mentions that if he “didn’t have a taste for crow,” he wouldn’t be running an overcrowded hospital. He probably washed that crow down with a tall glass of pride before uttering that line.