Greco paints an amazing ‘Canvas’

Carly at the Movies column by Carl Larsen

I met Joseph Greco, writer/director of the 2006 film “Canvas,” at a regional conference of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. He showed clips of this remarkable movie and spoke about his own growing up with a mother suffering from schizophrenia.

The film is one of the best I’ve ever seen dealing with this brain disorder, and is available on DVD. It stars Joe Pantoliano and Marcia Gay Harden as the husband and afflicted wife, and is told from the point of view of their 10-year-old son, played by Devon Gearhart.

This close-knit family lives in Florida, and we see the affect that schizophrenia has, not only on the wife, but on her family as well. When she goes off her meds and is hospitalized, the boy suffers at the hands of his peers, and the father copes with his own emotions by starting to build a sailboat in his backyard – thus the title of the film and a metaphor used throughout.

Pantoliano is excellent as a blue-collar worker struggling with demons not his own, and Marcia Gay Harden is both chilling and heart-breaking in her portrayal of a woman descending into mental illness. But the most striking performance is by young Devon Gearhart, a sort of young, sensitive male version of Dakota Fanning.

Gearhart’s take on it is very natural, very low-key, yet through his eyes we see all the terror and uncertainty of a child when his world starts to crumble.

Although the subject matter is grim, this film remains honest and on a positive note. It has been acclaimed by many in the mental-health community, and has garnered awards at every film festival in which it has been entered.

Why all the hoopla about a film that most of us have never heard of? Well, most films dealing with this kind of mental illness have sanitized and trivialized the subject, but Joseph Greco has presented it within a realistic framework in a way we can all relate to and understand.

Even very good films like “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” deal more with social issues rather than mental illness. Perhaps the best of the lot is Ingmar Bergman’s 1961 film, “Through a Glass Darkly,” starring Max Von Sydow and Harriet Andersson. It provides a compelling glimpse into the world of schizophrenia, but like all Bergman films, is unrelentingly bleak and transpires on his patented desolate seacoast.

Young writer/director Greco has been working in film since his graduation from Florida State University, and was an assistant to James Cameron during the making of “Titanic.” His other film, a short entitled “The Ghost of Drury Lane,” has won awards at three different film festivals since its release in 1993.

I highly recommend “Canvas,” an independent movie that deserves wider viewing, to general film fans, and particularly to those from families that have had to deal with schizophrenia.


Carl Larsen is a regular contributor to The Augusta Free Press. Look for his At the Movies column on Mondays.

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