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Feud for Thought

Once again we are being bombarded by movies in which a new generation vents its anger at the sins, real and imagined, of the older one. The most eloquent of these outcries, I think, are David O. Russell's vivid 1996 black comedy Flirting With Disaster, in which a baffled yuppie adoptee goes in search of his birth parents (and wishes he hadn't), and the upcoming The Ice Storm, which reveals deep family disorder in the Connecticut suburbs circa 1973.

Less engaging, but still interesting if you've got a jones for catharsis, is newcomer Bart Freundlich's low-budget debut, The Myth of Fingerprints, which digs up the Oedipus complex for the ten-thousandth time and lays the world's ills once more on an emotionally crippled father.

The crucible? Yet another Thanksgiving family reunion--where the skeletons come leaping out of the closet and old wounds are rubbed raw. Dad is Roy Scheider, bearded and craggy now, as a laconic New England country type who doesn't really like his four children very much. Gentle Mom (Blythe Danner) simply accommodates him, and the kids are a familiar bundle of WASP neuroses. Mia (Julianne Moore) is a classic mood-swinger with a bitter temper; Jake (Michael Vartan) is a buttoned-up pragmatist; the baby, Leigh (Laurel Holloman), desperately seeks warmth; the pivotal Warren (Noah Wyle) has been gravely damaged by the fearsome patriarch--Dad once hit on his girlfriend, and Warren did nothing about it.

Oh, the terror. This soap opera with comic airs--Ordinary People meets The Simpsons--gives its fresh cast plenty of room to emote and to loudly copulate with assorted screen lovers in every room of the old house. Most of all, it gives NYU film-school grad Freundlich every young man's chance to get blood grievances off his chest. From the film's arty title (we're not exactly individuals, it says; families are afflicted by shared traumas) to its depictions of sibling rivalry, parental neglect and romantic disarray, The Myth of Fingerprints seems authentic enough--and trite enough.

Funny, but the battlefield where what the newsmagazines call the Xers choose to do battle with the boomers looks familiar. But for some adjustments in clothing styles, lingo and political striping, it's the same place where the pot-smoking boomers once did battle with the silent World War II generation and where the WWIIers, before fighting Hitler, once jitterbugged their buns off in rebuke of the Prohibitionists sitting at home in the parlor. Good for everybody: You can bet the rites of passage shall always be thus.--Gallo

The Myth of Fingerprints.
Written and directed by Bart Freundlich. With Noah Wyle, Michael Vartan, Julianne Moore, Laurel Holloman, Roy Scheider and Blythe Danner.

 
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