John and Mary Marino fell in love aboard a sailboat, but her subsequent schizophrenia has blown their family life off course.
In the opening scenes of Canvas, first-time writer/director Joseph Greco’s camera pans past a sign reading “Welcome to Hollywood.” The Hollywood in question, however, is not the one in California, but in Florida—a subtle foreshadowing of the fact that the treatment of Mary’s mental illness here isn’t Tinseltown typical. Instead, it’s naturalistic, near-perfect performances by award-winning actors Joe Pantoliano and Marcia Gay Harden as John and Mary and newcomer Devon Gearhart as their son Chris that put the wind in Canvas’ sails.
On his first night back from an extended stay with an aunt in Alaska, Chris is awakened by the flashing red-and-blue lights of a cop car called by neighbors annoyed by Mary’s latest paranoid episode. After his mom is led off in handcuffs, Chris struggles with the fear that it isn’t only the neighborhood bullies who think he’s crazy, too. (Typical taunt: “Hey, Chris: Does your mother wear a straightjacket to bed?”)
John is also struggling—with a heartless HMO that won’t cover Mary’s medical bills, with a blowhard boss who professes friendship but doesn’t come through for his foreman when it counts—so much so that he isn’t always aware of everything his beloved son is going through. The two, however, eventually bond while working on the sailboat that John begins building in the backyard as a valentine to the wife he still loves.
On its maiden voyage, the boat is almost blown into the rocks, and John’s understated statement after the catastrophe is averted—“We’re still floating”—is indicative of the quiet determination that Greco, himself the son of a schizophrenic mother, has imbued his characters with in this strong first feature.
Distributor: Screen Media
Cast: Joe Pantoliano, Marcia Gay Harden, Devon Gearhart, Sophia Bairley, Marcus Johns, Antony Del Rio and Paul Lasa
Director/Screenwriter: Joseph Greco
Producers: Sharon Lane, Adam Hammel, Lucy Hammel, Joe Pantoliano and Bill Erfuth
Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic elements
Running time: 100 min.
Release date: October 12, 2007 NY/Chi, October 19 LA/Ft. Lauderdale/Phoenix