[Screen It]


(2021) (Martha Plimpton, Ann Dowd) (PG-13)

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Drama: Two couples try to resolve a past tragedy that continues to affect both families.

Jay (JASON ISAACS) and Gail (MARTHA PLIMPTON) have arrived at an Episcopalian church where they're greeted by church employee Judy (BREEDA WOOL) who's nervous about why they're there, even if she's not going to be directly involved. In charge is Kendra (MICHELLE N. CARTER) who's arranged the meeting between them -- who she's meeting for the first time -- and her clients Richard (REED BIRNEY) and Linda (ANN DOWD) with whom she's been working for the past several years.

The two couples know each other stemming from a past tragedy that affected them and their families. And that's when Richard and Linda's teenage son, Hayden, engaged in a mass shooting at the high school he attended with Jay and Gail's son, Evan. He ended up one of the ten people shot and killed that fateful day, with Hayden then taking his own life.

Needing to resolve that past event and how it still affects them, the two couples awkwardly try to get answers from each other regarding their sons and what Richard and Linda knew, worried about, and did or didn't do that might have impacted their son's fateful decision years ago.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10

Sometimes you never truly know people, be they brief acquaintances or family members. Long ago, we had family friends visiting from out of state with their young grandkids who we met for the first and last time. I don't recall much about the children other than that they watched VeggieTales cartoons which I told was their favorite show on TV.

Years later, the boy, then 17, helped his friend murder the latter's adoptive parents in a premeditated plan for money. All despite having wealthy parents, attending a Christian school at the time, and apparently showing no signs of being capable of committing such a heinous act.

I can only imagine his parents were shocked, which is probably the case in a lot of murders that take place in the U.S. year in and year out, including those at schools. A little research shows that since 1990, there have been 360 acts of gun violence at K-12 schools.

That has resulted in 266 deaths as well as shocked and grieving parents of both the victims and perpetrators trying to come to grips with what occurred and questions on both sides about whether the latter missed signs of what was going to happen.

A fictional version of that is what fuels "Mass," a tour de force of acting where two sets of parents meet years after a school shooting in hopes of coming to some sort of resolution regarding their conflicted feelings that have rocked them since the incident.

As written and directed by actor turned filmmaker Fran Kranz, the majority of the film takes place inside a small meeting room of an Episcopalian church where one of the employees there (Breeda Wool) is nervous about things being just right for the meeting.

We initially don't know the specifics of that, with the no-nonsense coordinator of it (Michelle N. Carter) not providing any hints, and the script takes its time before finally revealing why Gail (Martha Plimpton) and Jay (Jason Isaacs) are meeting Linda (Ann Dowd) and Richard (Reed Birney).

None of them appear to be happy about the meeting, and it begins with awkward comments and faked niceties before finally getting down to business. While I think all of that early material could have been truncated quite a bit without losing any beats -- as you might end up growing impatient by the delay and the filmmaker dancing around the issue at hand -- once the emotions start to flow, the drama becomes quite powerful.

You won't be surprised by any of the story revelations or the painful emotions that leak and then pour out during the film's 110-some minute running time. But you'll likely be affected by them due to, well, simply being human and sympathetic toward the plight of others and the realistic and terrific performances from the four leads.

While are four are strong as they portray hurt people trying to cope with and balance conflicting emotions that are simultaneously besieging them, it's the ladies who particularly shine. And that's mainly because their characters end up ultimately feeling for the other despite their initial mindset and expectations for what will come of the meeting. Don't be surprised to see multiple award nominations for them, and perhaps the men as well.

It's not an easy flick to sit through, especially if one's experienced school violence first or secondhand. But it's one that's rewarding for seeing adults come to a cathartic compromise rather than stubbornly continuing to engage in today's common incivility toward others, and one that examines the continued emotional aftermath and fallout of such senseless killings. "Mass" rates as a 7 out of 10.

Reviewed October 5, 201 / Posted October 15, 2021

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