A stubbornly affecting drama that's far stronger in its quieter moments, writer-director Kari Skogland's adaptation of the late Canadian novelist Margaret Laurence's 1964 novel would have benefited from a tougher, steely-eyed approach. On the eve of being shipped to a nursing home, irascible, ailing octogenarian Hagar Shipley (Ellen Burstyn) runs out on her adult son (Dylan Baker) and escapes into her past, seen through flashbacks as her younger self (Christine Horne) experiences love, betrayal, heartbreak, and every other emotion one could expect to encounter in the CliffsNotes version of adulthood. The Stone Angel makes no bones about its intentions: This is a soppy film about the tangled feelings that come from our bonds with parents, then lovers, then children, and how the first relationship impacts the next, and so on. Admittedly, this isn't profound stuff, so it's a shame Skogland emphasizes the melodramatic, tear-jerking extremes of Hagar's life until every incident feels burdened with meaning. But despite its cutesy comic-relief digressions and overdone solemnity, The Stone Angel finds its way past tonal inconsistencies to a moving conclusion that doesn't romanticize death, but rather judges it to be one more marker on the road to figuring ourselves out.
Burstyn has to wrangle her angels.
Opens at Seven Gables, Fri., July 25. Rated R. 115 minutes.