“Close to Me” review: Connie Nielsen’s psychological drama Sundance Now

Connie Nielsen and Christopher Eccleston deliver great performances, but the limited series “Woman in Peril” does little to shake up worn-out genre tropes.

All is not as it seems in “Close to Me”, the psychological drama of Sundance Now about a married woman and mother who forgets the last year of her life following a traumatic event. A personal investigation into what caused it consumes all six episodes of the limited series, which stars Connie Nielsen and Christopher Eccleston in a mid-range effort that falls somewhere between the simplicity of a lifetime movie soap opera and the kind of beautiful hellish landscape that Nielsen’s compatriot Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier is known to have written. There is even footage involving a dead dog marked on a rhyme about a copper fox, reminiscent of the legendary “Chaos Reigns” moment in “Antichrist” (2009). If only “Close to Me” was also resolutely conflicting in style and structure.

What keeps the series from being the haunting reverie it longs for is that it’s all too familiar – just playing inside an already shredded box. It can provide varied opportunities for more drama and unpredictability, but the great ‘woman with amnesia’ storytelling trope could use an overhaul.

Danish-English translator Jo Harding (Nielsen) seems to have it all: a beautiful country house, a loving family made up of a devoted husband, Rob (Eccleston), plus two children, Finn and Sash (Tom Taylor and Rosy). McEwen), and an inherited wealth that gives him the freedom to advocate for social justice causes. But in the wake of a potentially fatal fall down a staircase, Jo’s memory is suddenly lost for 12 full months. As she struggles to piece together events, she uncovers secrets that suggest her life may not be as perfect as she had imagined.

Jo is led to believe – mainly by Rob – that she was drunk when she fell. But was she drunk, or did someone push her? Was there anyone else in the house that evening? Maybe she was having an affair with Owen (Jamie Flatters) the handsome gardener, and did that have something to do with anything? Was Rob having an affair? Did she sleep with her pregnant daughter’s evil boyfriend, Thomas (Nick Blood)? Did she have a nervous breakdown and was her fall actually a suicide attempt? Questions about questions are asked and answered gradually, methodically, but perhaps too much, in a story that perhaps would have been better served as a compact 90-minute feature film.

“What did you do with Jo, and who did you do that with?” She asks herself in a voiceover at the start of the series – a narrative that continues throughout. Over the next five or so episodic hours, chaos does not quite reign, as much as it trembles. Coincidentally, as in the aforementioned “Antichrist”, a dead child is what largely caused Jo’s volatile emotional state prior to the fall, supporting the theory that it could have been a state suicide attempt. intoxicated, as she and Rob struggled to put their lives back together after the drama.

In addition, Jo, like Charlotte Gainsbourg’s character in the film, develops borderline psychotic disorder. She may or may not have visions, as reality and fantasy, past and present, start to blend together, so much so that audiences, like Jo, find it hard to differentiate themselves, questioning everything. she thinks she knows about her life, as well as people. inside. She is at the mercy of all the truths they stand for.

But a series of chronologically and spatially disorienting events does not automatically translate into narrative complexity.

It’s straightforward genre stuff, and enough exposure to general “Women in Peril” narratives should quickly straighten out any jagged lines that “Close to Me” draws in an attempt to complicate its storyline. In marital mysteries and in real life, a woman is more likely to fall victim to an intimate partner than a stranger, but how Jo’s journey to truth is designed becomes much more critical for any appreciation. of the series than to learn the truth. (Speaking of “Antichrist,” fortunately this does not imply a sinister satanic conspiracy.)

If there is suspense to be drawn from the experience, it is of no use at all that Rob’s suspicious behavior, as depicted in the first episode, paints a portrait of a man stuck in a corner, even if the reasons are not immediate. clear. His implication becomes evident soon enough that the only logical way to save the series would have been if his long set-up was just a ruse. Unfortunately, catharsis is rather inexpensive, despite the eleventh hour wrinkles; one of them being a rerun of Jo’s ‘missing’ year seen through Rob’s eyes, revealing what she doesn’t remember or just never knew.

The momentum picks up a bit in these final two episodes, which may be collectively titled “Rob’s Unraveling,” and Eccleston is sufficiently in awe of him, even though he sometimes feels like he’s gone the extra mile and gone the extra mile. ‘he can play for a completely different series. But it is forgivable. Nielsen carries much of the load in front of the camera with the combined vulnerability and determination that his role requires. She’s also an executive producer, which provides additional motivation to deliver a satisfyingly tuned performance, as do co-stars Taylor, McEwen, Flatters and Blood. They are joined by a talented group, including Susan Lynch (Jo’s best friend, Cathy), Leanne Best (Rob’s attractive coworker, Anna), Ellie Haddington (Jo’s eccentric neighbor, Wendy), Ray Fearon (the boss. concerned of Jo, Nick) and Henning Jensen (Jo’s father, Frederik). Suffice to say that the list of strengths of “Close to Me” is dominated by the muscle of its actors. It was ultimately up to screenwriter Angela Pell and director Michael Samuels to push that cracked rock up a moderately steep hill, and it’s just a bit too easy a hike.

Thematically, the series delves into important issues like depression, childhood trauma, paranoia, and amnesia, while flirting with the heavy byproducts of toxic masculinity. With a dash of mermaid mythology, which usually symbolizes revival – that of Jo in this case – the creators of “Close to Me” may have had something more allegorical in mind that doesn’t fully translate into it.

A generous read would sum up the series as a character study of a woman on the brink, but it lacks rigor, relying too much on explanatory interjections, like repeated flashbacks and nightmares. Moreover, while genre conventions dictate that clues be gradually unmasked, the mystery becomes less and less one – even to the untrained eye – the longer the journey, the more the ending seems unwarranted, an unsatisfactory whole that will be. soon forgotten.

Any comparison to “Antichrist” does not mean at all that “Close to Me” is in any way a riff on von Trier’s film, but there are some fortuitous connections to it as well as to the director’s film of 2014, “Nymphomaniac”. in which Nielsen starred. The protagonist of the latter has a similar, but not grammatically identical, first name (Joe, still played by Gainsbourg), is also guided by the narration of his lead role, and even opens his first minutes with a visual of Joe, nailed to the ground, broken, bloodied, and dazed, staring into space. “Close to Me” certainly doesn’t have to emulate the Danish provocateur’s distinctively cynical and somber style, but it could have benefited from his propensity to experiment artistically, especially in a story about personal renewal.

Note: C-

“Close to Me” premiered Thursday, December 16 on Sundance Now and AMC +. New episodes are set to debut each week with the finale airing on Thursday, January 20, 2022.

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