Film Review: Change in the Air

A quiet drama about an inspiring visitor never takes wing.
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You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but sometimes a poster can give the whole movie away, or at least provide a warning.

The one-sheets for Change in the Air, for example, feature a semi-circle of floating heads, with a few, familiar “Oh, is she still around?” faces included. The performers all have pleasant, thoughtfully optimistic expressions. A flock of birds takes wing behind them.

Uh-oh. Sentimental uplift, dead ahead.

It might sound like an unfair assumption, but it actually turns out to be a fair assessment of Change in the Air. Although it marks the debut of director Dianne Dreyer and screenwriter Audra Gorman, they’re the only new things about it.

One of those The Most Remarkable Person I Ever Met stories, the film features Rachel Brosnahan (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”) as Wren, the newcomer to a Norman Rockwell neighborhood. She’s quiet, keeps to herself, and apart from a daily walk, stays absolutely under the radar.

So, of course, everyone starts obsessing over her.

Chief among them is the neighborhood’s gossipy fussbudget, played by the underseen and still-winsome Mary Beth Hurt. But there’s also the friendly if curious cop, played by Aidan Quinn. A lovesick postal carrier. And assorted other snoops, do-gooders and passersby.

Nothing much happens, though. Wren gets sacks full of mail, which she quietly reads, then goes on her mysterious perambulations. M. Emmet Walsh stares into space while patient wife Olympia Dukakis bustles about. Now and then we break for some music, thanks to guest star Macy Gray, including an overwrought and self-important cover of a Leonard Cohen song, as Leonard Cohen covers almost always are.

Oh, and Hurt’s husband, Peter Gerety, an inveterate birdwatcher, occasionally stops everything to show us pictures of our feathered friends, and to relate to anyone who’ll listen—and especially those who won’t—long stories about these animals’ mythical and metaphorical pasts. Hey, wait a minute. Isn’t that new neighbor’s name Wren?

Hmm…

Although it’s not clear exactly where the story is going for a while—Is she a lunatic? An angel?—there’s little doubt that the poster was right, and this is all going to end in a moment of great supposed significance. It’s getting there that takes forever. The first-time filmmakers have little idea of pace, or imagery. Flatly lit, squarely staged, the scenes just plod on.

Of course, with a cast this crammed with veterans, there have to be some lively moments. Hurt overdoes the “Snoop Sisters” detective act a bit, but it’s pleasant just to be able to watch her or Dukakis in close-up, their faces full of untold stories. Gerety has some sly fun as Hurt’s bird-watching hubby, as does Quinn as the perpetually put-upon cop.

But while Brosnahan is graceful and composed as Wren, she’s not playing a character, she’s playing a symbol, and although the film’s hopeful message isn’t a particularly proselytizing one, neither does it ever rise above the pat. Actually, for a film meant to gently uplift your spirits, all it leaves you with is a slight feeling of failure. Sure, fine, maybe I haven’t wasted my life. But I sure misspent these last 94 minutes.