The Details’ offers up little new about suburbia
By CHRISTY LEMIRE Associated Press – Wednesday, November 7, 2012
2 1/2 (out of five stars)
Director: Jacob Aaron Estes
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Elizabeth Banks, Kerry Washington, Laura Linney
Rated: R for language, sexual content, some drug use and brief violence
Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes
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In “The Details,” Dr. Jeff Lang (Tobey Maguire) lives in a charming suburban Seattle home with his beautiful wife, Nealy (Elizabeth Banks), and their adorable 2-year-old son. When we first see him, he’s driving home in his Toyota Prius, which has a campaign sticker for President Barack Obama on it, naturally, with a large, lovely plant from Trader Joe’s in the backseat.
Jeff has resodded the backyard, and the place looks terrific, until one morning when he wakes up and finds that raccoons have gutted the grass overnight. Yes, these are literal raccoons, but they’re also metaphorical raccoons and sometimes, when things get especially weird, they’re imaginary. They dig up transgressions in Jeff’s life and weaknesses in his character that he’d rather suppress through his breezy smugness.
Such is the obviousness of the symbolism in this black comedy that explores the ugly underbelly of seemingly idyllic domestic life.
Perhaps this story from writer-director Jacob Aaron Estes, with its drugs, adultery and murder, sounds familiar to you. A lot of movies have upended the mythology of suburbia over the past decade or so, especially following the success of “American Beauty.”
“The Details” doesn’t do much that’s new or particularly inspired to add insight to this collection, but it has some surprising moments and nuggets of clarity. And it does offer some uncomfortable truths about the tiny ways in which we try to get away with stuff, and how they grow, and how we convince ourselves they’re still OK.
Jeff, for example, is expanding his family’s home in defiance of local zoning laws. He tries to get rid of the raccoons by illegally laying out poison. And when an afternoon drink with his best friend from medical school (Kerry Washington), who happens to be gorgeous and married, leads to a quick tryst in the garage ... well, it was just that one time. And Jeff felt really bad about it, or so it seemed.
This is an inherently selfish person, but he’s not truly evil. He also shows some glimmers of decency, especially when it comes to his basketball buddy, Lincoln (played by an unrecognizable Dennis Haysbert), who’s struggling financially and in need of a new kidney.
Laura Linney is a hoot as the nutty next-door neighbor who threatens to blackmail Jeff over an affair he’s having by trying to launch an affair of her own with him. But then Banks, as Jeff’s wife, doesn’t get nearly enough to do, which makes a climactic reveal from her seem to come from nowhere.
And then there’s Ray Liotta as Washington’s husband. He initially seems like a bit of an idiotic lug, but ends up having one standout scene as the cuckolded husband who explains to Jeff in an extended monologue what it means to be a man. The straightforward way in which he cuts to the core suggests the better (and more honest) movie that might have been in here.