In what is probably the stagiest movie I’ve ever seen that was not actually a stage adaptation, Mass is a claustrophobic, extremely intimate experience where you feel trapped in a room, no, actually trapped at a table with four emotionally scarred individuals trying to have a conversation. The four people are two sets of parents that lost a child in a mass school shooting. If that weren’t bad enough, one pair were parents to a victim, and the others were parents to the shooter.
Awkwardly bookended by scenes of a couple of church employees and a social worker facilitating the neutral meeting space (put a box of tissue on the table, or no?), the meat of the film really lies in the character study and master acting class of Martha Plimpton and Jason Isaacs as Gail and Jay, parents of a boy who was shot and killed, and Ann Dowd and Reed Birney as Linda and Richard, parents of the troubled boy who murdered ten of his classmates.
The two women, as least on the surface, are the most raw. Gail’s face is that of stone… stone that can be cracked open to spew molten lava of years of fury. Linda, on the other hand, has a beaten down look of a woman who has wrung her hands with grief and confusion, wanting to reach out to others while knowing that the reality is that she and her husband are pariahs to the victims’ families, the community, and the media. I’m ready to throw Oscars at both Dowd and Plimpton for their tense, heartbreaking performances.
The men also both get a moment to shine. You get the sense that Jay has bottled up all his hurt and anger into activism, wanting to do something, anything in his helplessness. Richard, on the other hand, separated from his wife, and showing up in a crisp business suit with the lingering comment that he’ll have to dart out early for work is the most controlled, most closed. His measured way of talking is infuriating in a polished way, but even his cracks start to show.
Writer/director Fran Kranz has created an explosively raw drama… no, an extremely uncomfortable conversation, really, of what seems to be a truly American problem. The couples even meet with the typical American pleasantness of “Hi, how are you” questions, without wanting to know the true answers. So when the actual emotions do spill forth, it is extremely painful and maybe–or maybe not–cathartic. There is no solution, no resolution. If anything, both sides can now at least acknowledge that the horrific actions of one boy irrevocably scarred all of their lives forever.