‘Rare Objects’ Review: Katie Holmes’ Latest Feature Shortchanges Itself
The problems with Rare Objects, Katie Holmes’ limp third directorial feature, aren’t immediately apparent. The film, which the actress also co-wrote and stars in, lures you with the potential of the biographical details revealed in the first scene. Benita, played by Julia Mayorga, sits before an attending doctor (Matthew Lawler) at the unnamed hospital from which she is being discharged. He recounts a mix of mundane and distressing facts: Benita was previously a student at the City University of New York; she had an abortion; and she checked herself into the hospital for PTSD and anxiety. These notes do not define a life, but they do promise a story far more involving than what Rare Objects ultimately offers.
Holmes and her co-writer Phaedon A. Papadopoulos adapted their screenplay from Kathleen Tessaro’s novel of the same name. Tessaro’s Rare Objects takes place in Depression-era Boston, where its main character, Maeve, a first-generation Irish immigrant recently discharged from a New York psychiatric hospital, lands a job in an antique shop. Working at the store gives Maeve access to a world previously unknown to her — a coterie of the city’s wealthiest people and families — and reintroduces her to a woman she befriended at the hospital.
The Bottom Line
Admirable premise, shaky execution.
The book and the film share broad thematic strokes — class, trauma, rekindling a friendship formed under extenuating circumstances — but they differ in detail. Holmes and Papadopoulos excitedly take the story out of its Depression-era context and plop it into the contemporary. Maeve becomes Benita, a Latina woman and child of immigrants whose existence is bound by the borders of her neighborhood in Queens. Attending college in Manhattan allows her to move beyond where she grew up and dramatically shifts her perspective on what is possible. Benita’s buzzing eagerness can be felt in flashbacks to earlier times.
Widening horizons also come with new dangers for Benita. Through these brief trips to the recent past we catch glimpses of her traumatic time in college. A charmed date suddenly turns violent, leaving the young Queens resident wounded and fearful. Although Rare Objects doesn’t clarify its timeline, we do know that this is a story of rebuilding a life after recent trauma.
Benita’s release from the hospital abruptly restarts her life, and it’s a transition the character initially struggles to manage. On the 7 train, which runs from Manhattan to Queens, Benita sits uncomfortably among straphangers wearing surgical masks and KN95s. Comments and questions from her mother (Saundra Santiago), who doesn’t know about the assault or the hospital, sting Benita. An attempt to check-in on an ex-boyfriend reveals that those around her have moved on with their lives.
Mayorga, in her debut feature film role, rightly plays Benita as a portrait of fragility and anxiety at first. The young woman moves through the streets of New York with a jittery nervousness. It helps us appreciate the self-assurance she develops later through loving conversations and a new job at the antique store. The store — run by Ben Winshaw (Derek Luke), a reserved traveler, and his genteel business partner, Peter Kessler (a scene-stealing Alan Cumming) — becomes a cocoon in which the vulnerable Benita learns to heal.
There’s a lot of heart in it Rare Objects, a film that tries to render with compassion the jagged aftermath of trauma. It resembles Ally Pankiw’s quiet stunner I Used to Be Funny, which chronicles one woman’s attempt to re-anchor herself while navigating PTSD from an assault. Unlike Pankiw’s debut, Rare Objects can’t quite handle the tonal shifts that the subject matter requires. The film’s odd pacing challenges our ability to keep up with or make sense of Benita’s evolution, and the appearance of Diana Van der Laar (Holmes) only aggravates that situation.
When Diana waltzes into the shop one day, Benita immediately recognizes her friend from the hospital. They keep the truth of their initial meeting hidden; a quick lie about a benefit party keeps witnesses of their reunion (the store owner and Diana’s brother James, played by David Alexander Flinn) from asking too many questions. The two women trip and stumble into a friendship. Their affection for each other is genuine, but their class differences are a stressful obstacle. Diana’s attempts to regain footing are helped by her family money, whereas Benita worries about paying back her student loans and helping her mother navigate the US immigration process.
The fodder for a dynamic story about how socioeconomic differences play into trauma recovery is there, but Rare Objects is unable to balance all its compelling threads. The film frenetically zips between Diana and Benita’s perspectives, which only underscores the difference in strength of the two storylines.
Understanding the heiress’ misfortunes makes Benita’s narrative feel fragmented by comparison. You begin to wonder about the threads — about her interests, college experiences and ex-boyfriend, even — that were dropped. You question what begins to feel like a distanced approach to her narrative. Without these morsels, the friendship between Diana and Benita — the heart of the story — is stubbornly unsatisfactory.
These queries nag even more when secondary characters, like Cummings’ Kessler, are rendered more robustly. As Diana’s grasp on her mental health becomes more tenuous, her story takes on increased prominence and Benita starts to fade into the background. The natural shifts in their relationship become harder to buy, more difficult to feel. Despite the best intentions of Rare Objectsthere’s not enough of Benita, the reason for this journey, to keep us committed.
Distributor: IFC Films
Production companies: Lafayette Pictures, Yale Productions, IFC Productions, SSS Entertainment, LB Entertainment, Lucky 13 Productions, Rolling Pictures
Cast: Katie Holmes, Julia Mayorga, Saundra Santiago, Derek Luke, Alan Cumming
Director: Katie Holmes
Screenwriters: Katie Holmes, Phaedon A. Papadopoulos, based on the novel by Kathleen Tessaro
Producers: Jordan Beckerman, Katie Holmes, Jesse Korman, Jordan Yale Levine, Mark Maxey, Shaun Sanghani
Executive producers: Craig Albrecht, Marco Allegri, Lee Broda, Rick Crumly, Patrick Heaphy, Jason Kringstein, Coleman Lannum, Scott Levenson, Gregory Mulligan, David Nazar, Brett W. Nemeroff, Phaedon A. Papadopoulos, Clay Pecorin, Russ Posternak, Michael J. Rothstein, Stefanie Scott, Jeffrey Tussi, Christy Lawrence Viviano, John Wollman
Director of photography: Lisa Rinzler
Production designer: Michael Fitzgerald
Costume designer: Brie Welch
Music: Bobby Wooten III
Editor: Sandra Adair
Casting: Avy Kaufman
Rated R, 2 hours 3 minutes
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