“There comes a moment when you look around waiting for the person in charge to help you, and then you realize you’re the person in charge.”
Sometimes things get lost in translation, and while I’ve never read Aimee Bender’s An Invisible Sign Of My Own, I know that it has quite a core of fans. So I’m forced to believe that something just didn’t make the transition to screenplay and ultimately onto the screen itself. Of course, some things don’t really translate to film, and I suspect this is really the case here. So where do I look for blame for the 90 minutes of my life lost on An Invisible Sign?
I don’t think there’s blame to be found in the cast. The movie contains a pretty solid cast led by Jessica Alba in a role quite different from anything she’s ever done before. I have to admit that her look here put me off a little, and the filmmakers certainly did do a fine job of creating a character here that I would have never expected from the actress. The cast also includes an underused J.K. Simmons. His performance gives credit to the “less is more” philosophy. He’s the most believable thing in the film. Even the child actors are delivering very fine performances here. So I can’t really say that anything went awry with the cast.
The story promises to be about math and a woman’s love for numbers. But this film is about mathematics as much as a Friday The 13th film is about anatomy. Mona (Alba) has grown up with a love of math and numbers. She’s allowed herself to believe that they somehow control the universe around her. When her father falls mentally ill, she expects the numbers to reveal something profound about his condition. But no matter how hard she looks in the nature around her, the numbers never offer any help at all. So Mona slowly gives up on all of the things that have ever brought her joy or happiness in the world in a misguided idea that the universe will balance her sacrifices with a cure for her father.
Even into adulthood, Mona is obsessed with finding the perfect number that will explain her troubles away. Her mother (Braga) and father (Shea) have decided that the situation has poisoned her life for too long. They practice a little tough love and kick her out of the house in the hopes she will be able to focus on her own life. That won’t be easy. She has become shy and incredibly socially awkward. She gets a job at a local elementary school as a math teacher. While this may seem like the perfect fit, it’s not. There she meets Lisa (Nyweide) who is suffering from the inevitable loss of her mother who has eye cancer. She’s also be pursued by the science teacher Ben (Messina) who is attracted to her. It turns out that Mona isn’t really teacher material in spite of the film’s attempt to represent the contrary. She brings a large ax into the classroom because … wait for it… it looks like the number 7. Apparently she should have been thinking more on the lines of 40, as in Lizzie Borden and her own family pastime.
It’s a tragic life, and no matter how hard you want to feel sorry for her it gets harder with every passing moment. Mona is as crazy as her father and belongs in a padded cell, not teaching impressionable minds. It’s these kinds of twisted messages that take any power or impact from what some will call a moving story.
The film suffers from an excruciatingly slow pace that doesn’t ever really seem to get anywhere. By the time it’s done we wonder if any of the characters have really grown. They tell us that Mona has, but I don’t really see it. I certainly don’t want her teaching my kids. She eats soap and has an irritating habit of tapping numbers out on surfaces with her hands. I didn’t leave the film feeling good about anyone or anything in it. The film is a tragedy that attempts to pass for a feel-good triumph. The only feel good triumph I experienced was when the final credits rolled. I’d never been happier that a disc didn’t come with any extra features.
An Invisible Sign is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 20-25 mbps. There’s not anything stand-out to be found in this high-definition image presentation. The display just screams average. The overt artistic style makes it even harder to really enjoy the presentation. The best I can say for the image is that most things appear natural enough, and there aren’t any flaws or image noises to take away from the experience.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is quite bland. You can hear the dialog, and that’s really about all you should hope for here.
Hollywood has an obsession with numbers as well. They tend to follow the kind that come in a box, a box office that is. Director Marilyn Agrelo wouldn’t really know too much about that, however. This is really her first feature film, and the inexperience shows in both the pacing and the cinematography. The movie was never really released to theaters, and that’s not uncommon for this kind of arthouse film. Unfortunately, it hasn’t really been a festival favorite either. I don’t doubt that everyone involved had some high ideals when they put this one together. But, the end result was a pretty bad film. I almost get the impression that “It’s not supposed to be a good thing. It’s supposed to be punishment.”