‘Longing’ Review: Richard Gere Flounders as a Businessman Who Discovers He Fathered a Son 19 Years Ago

In what seems like an odd choice for an English-language remake, helmer-writer Savi Gabizon transfers the action of his least successful Israeli drama, “Longing” (2017), to Canada. Alas, the story of a confirmed bachelor who learns that he fathered a son 19 years earlier fails to translate by striking far too many duff notes. Richard Gere struggles as the unlikable protagonist, whose attempts to learn more about the lad come off as creepy rather than poignant. After a limited theatrical release, the Lionsgate release will segue to digital and on-demand on June 28.

Gere plays busy New York businessman Daniel who is thrown for a loop when former girlfriend Rachel (Suzanne Clément) turns up with some big news. Not only did she return to Canada pregnant with his child, but the boy, Allen, recently died in a car accident. In spite of never wanting children, Daniel flies to Ontario for Allen’s memorial service, intending to stay for just a short time. However, he starts to discover more about his child’s life through Allen’s best friend Mikey (Wayne Burns), girlfriend Lillian (Jessica Clement), French teacher Alice (Diane Kruger) and school principal (Stuart Hughes).

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Although there is no change in the cinematography, the action takes on the peculiar feel and pace of a dream, with time seeming to expand, contradictory information accumulating and Daniel increasingly obsessed with what he learns. If only that part of the narrative were actually a dream, the film might have been a more interesting meditation on grief and Daniel’s odd, entitled behavior more acceptable.

Unfortunately, Gabizon goes on to provide several dream sequences in which Daniel encounters Allen (Tomaso Sanelli), including one in which he shares his erotic vision of a gigantic Alice masturbating on top of the school steeple; it’s an awkward scene that hits with the impact of a lead balloon. Ditto the one of Daniel hijacking Alice’s class to reveal way too much personal information about himself.

Daniel fixates on Allen’s intelligence and musical talent and ignores his less palatable traits, such as drug dealing and stalking Alice to such an extent that she is forced to report him to the police. His desire to do something for his deceased offspring culminates in a surprising turn of events that Gabizon and Gere fail to make credible to the audience, although the twist proved quite touching in the 2017 version.

It seems odd that given the chance to remake his own film, Gabizon didn’t choose to make his protagonist more sympathetic or change the scenes that seem so out of tune with contemporary audiences. In an understated, blank-eyed performance, Gere seems to have trouble accessing his character or his grief. Instead, the most congenial characters are the most rational, and the ones whom Daniel wrongs by trying to run roughshod over their agency, such as Alice, Lillian, Lillian’s father (Alex Ivanovici) and Rachel’s husband Robert (Kevin Hanchard).

The camerawork by Paul Sarossy, who did interesting work for director Atom Egoyan in the past, fails to impress, nor does Owen Pallett’s tinkly, over-sentimental piano score.

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