An ugly life
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
"So buxom, blithe, and full of face,
As heaven had lent her all his grace;
With whom the father liking took,
And her to incest did provoke:
Bad child; worse father!" Shakespeare, Pericles
"Quiet" is not an adjective usually associated with teenagers. The Quiet fulfills the odd expectations of usage by treating at length the abnormally quiet deaf/mute teen as a possible imposter and the abnormally incestuous relationship between a father and daughter as metaphor.
The deaf/mute repeats the mute teenager in Little Miss Sunshine: Both teens are rebelling against adults and life cycles they can't control such as a father's death and a family's dysfunction. If you thought Little Miss Sunshine was funny, then you will think The Quiet is downright depressing.
In The Quiet, Dot's (Camilla Belle) deaf/muteness alters the world around her from a devilish cheerleader sister Nina (Elisha Cuthbert), who terrorizes her, to high schoolers who ignore or taunt her.
The title as noun best defines the eerie world of Dot's mind, seemingly oblivious to whatever is happening but actually sensing the environment with astonishing clarity.
Director Jamie Babbit succeeds in creating an ironic title in which chaos and clamor are subtext. Unlike Dwayne (Paul Dano) as voluntary mute in Sunshine, surrounded by loveable eccentrics, Dot is a trauma victim whose adoptive family is neither humorous nor eccentric: a crazed mom (Edie Falco), incestuous dad (Martin Donovan), and angry sis. Certainly the incest scenes are uncomfortable at best and at the least figurative for a warped suburban world of longing and loss.
What stands out as a superior act of kindness, adopting the orphan Dot, turns into an ugly life that aims eventually at excising all tumors from the family. Along the way the filmmakers have failed to establish The Quiet as a tragedy, horror film, or teen melodrama. It is a messy m?lange of familial dislocations too numerous to deconstruct as film can so easily succeed in doing (Ordinary People and Ice Storm come immediately to mind).
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com