Given the more than 100 films screening at this year's Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, the quality is bound to be uneven. So it's pleasing to come across a find like Aurora Borealis, a small, unassuming film without any grand ambitions.
The film unfolds over a few snowy months in Minneapolis, as the film's main protagonist Duncan Shorter (Joshua Jackson) bounces from one slacker job to another before landing as a handyman at his grandparents' retirement building. The idea is to keep an eye on his grandfather Ronald (Donald Sutherland), whose declining health and depression are more than his grandmother Ruth (Louise Fletcher) can handle. There he meets home healthcare worker and chronic transient Kate (Juliette Lewis), and the two fall into a romance.
It's a thoughtful script full of intelligent dialogue between well-developed characters. Of course, much of the latter has to do with the solid acting, especially the remarkable portrayal of the ailing Ronald by Donald Sutherland, culminating in one of the most extraordinary and emotionally charged scenes in recent memory. And Lewis is perfectly cast as the brassy girlfriend, who plays to her acting strengths as the story's main catalyst. The film isn't perfect, with Jackson a bit vanilla as the lead and an ending that's much too tidy. But the film is so full of heart and easy charm that it's one trip to the Twin Cities you'll be glad to take, even in winter.
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