I suppose Ashton Kutcher is a shoo-in for his role here. Given a romantic relationship between a young man and a much older woman, Kutcher's real life experiences would have probably given him a head start in the auditions (if there was one), since he has walked the talk, and this aspect of the story would come off as no surprise. Then again, for writer-director David Hollander, this could have been getting this talked-about area out of the way, because the story here is richer than what the synopsis had painted, offering an engaging tale about the connections found between lost, broken souls.
The entire film is shrouded and draped in deep melancholy, and even the art direction and sets are nary bright and dandy, despite having weddings, an occasion for happiness, interspersed throughout the narrative. Hollander had crafted a series of multi-faceted characters and they got fleshed out brilliantly through the wonderful individual nuances to bring out the uniqueness of each one, with a common thread between them in having to be found holding onto things from the past, or plagued by the unhappy nightmares that life had dished out to them. For those who have lost someone dear, you'd probably feel just about the same way as the characters here, and especially in that seeking of justice when a crime has been committed against a loved one.
For those who equate Ashton Kutcher with his popular P'unked gag series, you'd probably already know about his flair for comedy, having his fair share of films like What Happens In Vegas and Just Married providing that showcase for his comic timing. For me, there's always this much under-exploited aspect of Kutcher's talent for dramatic flair. Glimpses of it are seen in The Butterfly Effect, one of my favourite films in recent times, and that same angst, despair and sheer quiet determination become more prominent here.
As for Michelle Pfeiffer, who wouldn't welcome her luminous presence? Last seen in Stardust after an extremely long hiatus from the silver screen, her role as the widow Linda brings about a certain sense of regal frailty, being the single parent to bring up a mute son Clay (Spencer Hudson) against difficult odds. Attracted to Kutcher's Walter, their relationship is actually nothing to scoff about, what being a cradle snatcher and all, but because of that instant connection that they share in the pain of having lost someone dear, and having to sit through agonizing court cases that could swing in anyone's favour.
And of course rounding up the star-studded cast is Kathy Bates as Walter's mom, attending therapy sessions to cope with the pain of loss, and learning to let go. Special mention too goes to Spencer Hudson's performance as the gentle giant Clay, who gets to show that he's no pushover when he gets cornered. While that led to some predictable elements toward the end, it wrapped up pretty nicely (though some may say cop-out), in having a rather confusing start iron itself out properly. Hollander managed to bookend the film going full circle, and I thought it was a neat spark of interest at the front in keeping things very fluid to engage the audience's attention.
Personal Effects is quiet, effectively emotive film that got blessed by a great cast highlighting that in moments of grief, there are always those whom we can turn to for comforting solace. It has potential to make it to my end of year shortlist of favourite films, and without a doubt, recommended!