Safety of Objects, The (2003): Rose (Go Fish) Troche’s Third Feature, Starring Glenn Close and Large Ensemble

Based on a series of short stories by A. M. Homes about four suburban families whose lives crisscross and whose fates intertwined, The Safety of Objects, Rose Troche’s third feature.

The Safety of Objects
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This work adds only a minor panel to the growing body of films about suburban anomie and existential malaise, the best of which is still Same Mendes’ 1999 Oscar- winner “American Beauty.”

Grade: C+ (**1/2* out of *****)

With over a dozen major characters, the film benefits from its illustrious cast, headed by Glenn Close, who plays the most prominent role, Esther Gold, the anxious mother of a son who’s in coma from a car accident and other children. As expected, most of the other characters are also related to the accident, directly or indirectly.

In a modest suburban neighborhood, Paul Gold (Joshua Jackson) lies at home in a coma, nursed by his mother Esther who dutifully tends to his needs, which distances her from her husband Howard (Robert Klein) and her teenage daughter Julie (Jessica Campbell). To elicit her mother’s attention, Julie enters Esther in a local radio contest, hoping to win the big prize, a car.

Across the street, Jim Train (Dermot Mulroney) feels his wife Susan (Moira Kelly) no longer needs him, and tries to reconnect with his son Jake (Alex House), a teenager fantasizing about his sister’s plastic doll. He claims that a bomb threat was called into his office, halting his work. With plenty of fee time, he offers Esther and Julie help in winning the coveted award.

The Trains’ older neighbor, Helen Christianson (Mary Kay Place), feeling less desirable, tries to make herself look younger but manages only to alienate her husband. Helen’s friend Annette Jennings (Patricia Clarkson), going through a messy divorce, struggles to provide for her two daughters. Sam, the older tomboyish daughter, is desperate to go off to summer camp, while the younger sister suffers from mental disabilities that require special schooling, which her former husband refuses to pay for.

Annette is mourning the loss of Paul, with whom she was having a relationship. Her estranged husband comes over to see the children, and expresses his wish to take their eldest on holiday, but Annette refuses. Sam overhears the ensuing argument and runs away when he tries to talk to her. Meanwhile, Randy the landscaper takes Sam to a remote cabin in the woods and keeps her there, not allowing her to call home.

Esther eventually becomes a finalist in the radio contest, only to pull out at the last moment after hard work, which makes Julie angry. Jim, angry at what he feels is an inadequate second place prize, becomes violent and wrecks the area. Bobby, Helen’s son who works as a security guard, kicks him out.

It takes a while for Esther to become aware of her neglect of her daughter, but when she realizes that, she goes home and suffocates her son. Jim returns home, and Randy lets Sam go home. Helen almost cheats on her husband, but eventually returns home.

In the end, it’s revealed in a flashback what caused the car crash that put Paul in a coma. Randy, Paul, and Randy’s brother were riding in a car after a gig that Paul’s band played. Randy’s younger brother gave Randy and Paul beers which were shaken, thus exploding on Paul while driving. At the same time, Julie and Bobby were driving, trying to rush Julie home after a tryst, which caused her to violate her curfew. Both cars had to swerve to avoid accident, and Paul’s car flipped over.

By necessity, the narrative is too fractured to become dramatically involving. I have not read the source material, but it strikes me as too literary and meditative material for a coherent and engaging picture. Troche’s direction is subtle, and the actors are good, but there’s a frustrating feeling of deja vu.


Esther Gold (Glenn Close)
Julie Gold (Jessica Campbell)
Joshua Jackson as Paul Gold
Moira Kelly as Susan Train
Robert Klein as Howard Gold
Timothy Olyphant as Randy
Annette Jennings (Patricia Clarkson)
Sam Jennings (Kristen Stewart)
Jim Train (Dermot Mulroney)
Jake Train (Alex House)
Helen Christianson (Mary Kay Place)
Sally Christianson (Charlotte Arnold)
Bobby Christianson (Aaron Ashmore)