For a film about parental loss and cinema itself, Cinemanovels is too dull to leave any lasting impression.
In the world of Cinemanovels, the name John Laurentian stands next to famous directors like Bergman and Antonioni. When the film opens the fictional Quebecois filmmaker is dead, and his estranged daughter Grace (Lauren Lee Smith) is handling his affairs. After hearing about plans to program a retrospective of her father’s work, Grace unexpectedly volunteers herself to handle the now posthumous tribute to her dad’s films.
It’s a decision met with surprise by those around her, including her investment banker husband (Ben Cotton) and close friend Clementine (Jennifer Beals). Grace despises her father for having an affair with, and eventually leaving, her mother for the lead actress in most of his films. Grace uses the opportunity to go through her father’s work (she’s never seen a single one before), although it looks like she’s using it as a means to escape from her own life. Grace seems to go through her marriage with a severe emotional detachment, going so far as to secretly sabotage their attempts to conceive a child.
Terry Miles, the writer/director/editor/cinematographer of Cinemanovels, lets Grace’s exposure to her father’s work function as an exploration of what parents pass on to their children, but his results are severely lacking. Grace is poorly defined as a character, with most of her behaviour left unexplained or just chalked up to grief over her daddy issues. Her lack of emotional connection to her husband (It took me a while to figure out he was married to her and not some sort of casual partner) establishes itself in the opening scene, but it’s unknown if her feelings have always been that way or just because of her father’s death. These kinds of questions linger throughout, serving as more of a distraction to the storyline.
Not that there’s much going on story-wise, though. Miles wears many hats behind the scenes, but he’s not very good at any of them. His screenplay is bland, mostly consisting of phony and unnatural conversations between characters. The lack of definition for Grace as a character extends to the direction, with Miles seemingly unsure as to whether or not he’s making a drama or comedy. He inserts clips from Laurentian’s films at different points, but these scenes scream “bad student film” rather than “master filmmaker.” Is Miles making fun of arthouse films with these scenes? The insipid tone and cinematography suggest otherwise, but if it’s meant for laughs it’s just bad parody. The synopsis describes Cinemanovels as “slyly humorous,” a term that really translates to “having almost no humor at all.”
Miles does succeed in rounding up a good cast for his film. Lauren Lee Smith adds a compelling quality to her role; when Grace begins turning her life into the plot of one of her father’s films, Smith makes Grace’s actions feel convincing. Jennifer Beals imbues a small, useless role with enough character to show she deserves better. Kett Turton and Katharine Isabelle, playing Grace’s neighbors, also elevate mostly thankless roles. Ultimately the film, while well-intentioned, has little else to save it aside from its strong cast. For a film about parental loss and cinema itself, Cinemanovels is too dull to leave any lasting impression.