Professor Walter Zarrow (Sam Waterston) is coming up on his last day of teaching after nearly 40 years and now, he’s starting to put a lot of his life into perspective. His son, Adam (Tim Blake Nelson), is going through an issue of his own when he finds out that his wife has cancer and needs to have surgery immediately. Meanwhile, a student of Walter’s (Kristen Stewart), is dealing with and trying to come to terms with her depression, that can sometimes lead her to deadly and dangerous thoughts. While this is happening, Sarah (Gretchen Mol), a suburban housewife is getting tired of her husband running around on her and leaving her with the kids, which is when she starts to think long and hard about what it is that she wants to do with her life, or if she even wants to stay married in the first place. Then, there’s Joe (K. Todd Freeman), an acclaimed writer who is now suffering from an addiction to heroin; one that his brother (Michael K. Williams) wants to resolve and fix as soon as possible. And then there’s Sam (Corey Stoll) and Nicole (Mickey Sumner) a couple who, for some odd reason, are out on a trip where they talk about life, love and what their current situation is.
So yeah, as you can tell, there’s a lot going on in Anesthesia, and while it may seem like none of the stories have anything to do with the other, once time begins to roll on, it’s easy to piece together the pieces of familial-tree in which we can see why this story is being told and what their overall significance is to the story. Does it really work? Not really, but writer/director Tim Blake Nelson, gives it all that he’s got, offering us a handful of stories that can occasionally spark interest and life into a pretty depressed tone, but still sometimes feel like there’s a whole lot missing.
For instance, the main story here is Waterston’s Walter character who, having seen plenty of the world and done a lot for the young, impressionable youth out there, has finally come to terms with the fact that his career is coming to an end. Waterston, as well as the rest of the ensemble, is great here and clearly gives this character his all, but he’s really the only fully-developed character here as we get to see everything about this guy, without any questions left up in the air as to why he is, the way he is. Everybody else, on the other hand, isn’t so lucky and it’s a bit of a shame because, once again, Nelson’s got a lot going on here that’s, on the surface, intriguing, but is all put together and cobbled-up in an-hour-and-a-half movie, that no plot seems to get as much attention as they should.
Even the ones that are, perhaps, the most compelling of all, still have to side the bench for some stories that are far more dull and boring.
One of the later stories in question is Kristen Stewart’s in which she doesn’t do much except look sad, act a bit crazy and question life’s meaning. That’s about it. Considering that Stewart has been showing more and more promise as an actress in the past year or so, it’s a bit of a shame that she’s given such a limited-role to work with here, but once again, it’s less of her fault, as much as it’s Nelson’s for giving it to her and not getting rid of it all completely. And this would have definitely been a smart idea, so long as it meant that there was more room for such stories like Stoll’s and Sumner’s – both of whom are fantastic here and, quite frankly, I’d love to see in their own movie, removed from all of the other sadness going on around here.
And really, the only reason I’m focusing so much on these subplots, is because that’s all the movie is made-up of, without much rhyme or reason. Nelson, from what it seems, is only trying to tell us, with Anesthesia, that life is connected in some sad, utterly depressing ways.
And yeah, that’s about it.
We get this and understand this clearly from the very beginning and while it’s still interesting to see how some of these small stories play-out in their own, mini ways, there’s still a feeling that a lot is being left out. Of course, having to deal with such a huge cast, Nelson himself probably ran into scheduling issues and couldn’t get each and every actor in the movie together for one scene, but that wasn’t as much of my problem, as much as it was that some weak stories, got in the way of the more engaging, stronger ones, leaving a good portion of Anesthesia to feel as if it’s constantly starting and stopping back up. While it’s admirable that Nelson doesn’t shine a judgmental light on any of these characters, at the same time, there’s only so much we can handle when watching certain characters not do anything of interest, just sit there, argue and talk about things we don’t really have any prior knowledge about.
In ways, the movie can sometimes feel like we’re walking into a party late, only to then realize that either everybody’s been acquainted, too drunk, or already friends with one another, to the point where you almost don’t want to bother introducing yourself or joining in on the fun. You’ve already shown up later than everyone else, they’re now looking at you and they don’t really care because, honestly, they’re getting on fine just without you. Of course, the actual viewing-experience of Anesthesia isn’t as harsh as I may write it out to be, but it is still, in no way, a party you want to be apart of or fully invested in.
Maybe eavesdropping or scoping out from across the room is fine, but that’s about it.
Consensus: Given the cast and crew involved, Anesthesia should hit harder than it does, but instead, focuses on a slew of subplots that can occasionally engage, but never fully-developed.
5 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire