Review by Sean Boelman
Esteemed character actor Michael Shannon made his directorial debut this year with Eric LaRue, which may be one of the most fascinating debuts in recent memory, even if it’s hardly one of the best. Eric LaRue is maybe the weirdest film you’ll ever see about the topic of school shootings — too funny to be taken completely seriously, but too weighty to really be a comedy — in a way that will leave viewers feeling mostly confused by the time the credits roll.
The movie follows the mother of a school shooter as she struggles to reconcile with the community her son has destroyed, as well as her own feelings of guilt and remorse. Although the critically acclaimed Mass dealt with a similar topic in the past, Neveu and Shannon’s approach couldn’t be more different, for better or worse.
Presenting this story through the lens of a crisis-of-faith arc is an intriguing idea, and feels like a genuine reaction that people could have to a tragedy like this. However, the approach that Neveu’s script is almost too satirical — bordering on outright comedic at times — for the film to have its full emotional impact.
The movie’s message when it comes to school violence could also be easily misconstrued in a way that could prove off-putting (or even offensive) to some viewers. The characters in the film are clearly looking for someone to blame — whether it be themselves, someone else, or even God — but it seems to be going with the message that there are no easy answers. Unfortunately, the conclusion of the movie is frustratingly and perhaps unfairly definitive in pointing its finger.
The parts of the film that deal with the protagonist, the mother of a school shooter, as she attempts to come to reckoning with her own culpability (or lack thereof) in the atrocities committed by her son, are fascinating. However, when it comes to the supporting characters and their subplots — like a “will-they-or-won’t-they” infidelity storyline led by her husband — the movie feels quite unfocused.
Eric LaRue is most effective as an acting showcase for lead actress Judy Greer, who is downright exceptional in the leading role. She oozes so much emotion as the character that it is genuinely soul-crushing. Interestingly, Shannon directs the supporting cast to give performances much like he would — somewhat cold, with a slight deadpan sensibility. It’s definitely most noticeable in the turns of Alexander Skarsgård, Allison Pill, and Paul Sparks.
From a technical level, this is certainly a very accomplished debut for Shannon. The visuals of the film, particularly in a few moments that lean into surrealism, are strikingly shot and thought-provoking. And the needle drops, consisting mostly of folk pop music, are inspired and accentuate the slightly askew nature of the movie.
Eric LaRue is likely to get as many people who hate it as love it. Its unorthodox approach (it would even be fair to call the film downright weird) may leave some viewers feeling uncomfortable. However, as a movie about this topic, it’s clearly intentional to leave the audience feeling unsettled, so it should be praised for that.
Eric LaRue screens at the 2023 Tribeca Festival, which runs June 7-18 in NYC and June 19 through July 2 online.