SNOWCAKE directed by Marc Evans, written by Angela Pell, with Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver and Carrie-Ann Moss. An Alliance Atlantis release. 112 minutes. Opens Friday (December 15). For venues and times, see Movies, page 99. Rating: NNNNN
Most film actors seem much smaller in person. Not Sigourney Weaver. When she rises to reveal all 5 feet and 11 inches of her fit, mid-50s self and heartily holds out her hand, it feels more like you're meeting a head of state than a movie star. The patrician style is as carefully groomed and understated; the words as intelligently thought out. Only when she dashes off to the washroom does she reveal a wicked wink of vaudevillian fun unknown to most politicos.
"I need a john break!" she announces, singsong-style, patting her stomach.
Weaver's at the Film Festival promoting Snowcake, the small indie in which she plays an autistic woman living in Wawa, Ontario, whose daughter has just been killed in a car accident. Alan Rickman plays the man who was giving the daughter a lift.
"The movie's not about autism," says Weaver, when I bring up the possibility that the film will be tagged "the Sigourney Weaver autism film," Rain Woman to Dustin Hoffman's Rain Man.
"Autism is part of one of the characters, and it's just presented as a fact. It's not the subject. The subject is really connecting versus not connecting."
She pauses. "In a way, I don't know how you'd sell this film. It's such an original story. The writer, Angela Pell, has a son with autism, and she said living with someone with the condition is heaven and hell. I want people to see the heaven, but I also want them to see what hell is for the person."
As for Hoffman, Weaver graciously admits his performance was brilliant. "But there was a real desire on everyone's part that there should be more depictions out there than just Rain Man."
Weaver did tons of research before filming started, and met lots of autistic people, including Ros Raft, a fully functional autistic living in England. Weaver phoned her many times ("She doesn't sleep," explains the actor) from Wawa with questions.
"She's so insightful, I'd work on other scripts with her," says Weaver. "In the movie, when a woman says to Linda, "I'm so sorry you lost your daughter,' I say, "I didn't lose her, she's dead.' That's straight out of Ros's mouth. It's that logic, unassailable and completely unsentimental."
The key to the character, says Weaver, was finding her inner autistic person. In the film, Linda is enchanted by sparkly objects and putting cakes of snow in her mouth. She craves order and routine and can't stand dealing with garbage.
"I really learned how to play and look around me," says Weaver. "Who's to say that our obsession with the Blackberry is more valuable than their obsession with sparkly things? We think we're accomplishing something, but I'm not sure that's so true."
Casting her as a woman who needs to be in control was a smart move. Nobody communicates power like Weaver. (Don't forget that before Streep strapped on her Prada gear to play the boss from hell, Weaver stepped all over Melanie Griffith's Working Girl.)
Rickman brought the script to her, but the multiple Oscar-nominated actor still had to pursue it.
"I was amazed that people thought of me for this. Most people have no imagination they just want me to play Ripley forever, no matter how many other things I do."
She long ago came to terms with the fact that the Alien movie franchise has made her name yet also possibly limited her range in the industry.
"It's so hard to get an independent film seen and bought. The fact that people know me from those Alien movies helps get distributors around the world. It's the same thing for Alan and the Harry Potter films."
The two worked on the sci-fi comedy Galaxy Quest, a film that's won a cult fan base but wasn't properly marketed. She doesn't hold back about her thoughts on the final product.
"It was even better before they recut it at the last minute to put it up against Stuart Little," she says. "They recut it as a kids' film. There was stuff, especially with Alan, that was very sophisticated and adult, that made it even wittier."
No bullshitter, Weaver was also one of the few people to defend Mel Gibson's character when her former Year Of Living Dangerously co-star broke down.
"I spent months and months with him back then, and I never saw any bigotry. Then again, I didn't know his father. To grow up with a man who doesn't believe in the Holocaust? How could you not have, deep down, some confusion?"
SNOWCAKE (Marc Evans)
Snowcake offers up the bizarre sight of Sigourney Weaver not only playing an autistic woman, but one who lives in Wawa, Ontario (!).
High-functioning autistic Linda's (Weaver) spirited, nonconformist daughter has been killed in a car accident while hitchhiking; the man who gave her daughter a lift (Alan Rickman) comes to apologize but stays on to help Linda out.
The contrived odd-couple premise draws us in for two reasons: we want to see if sadness or grief can reach Linda, who lives only in the moment and is one helluva neatness freak.
And we want to see if Rickman's icy character (who's also carrying tons of baggage) can melt.
Weaver, one of cinema's strongest onscreen presences, is eerily effective, without relying on Rain Man-nerisms, while it's good to see cold fish Rickman generate some heat as a quasi-romantic lead.
Snowcake is worth seeing for the two stars and for the wonderful, imaginative Scrabble scene. But the sections involving a fun-loving neighbour (Carrie-Anne Moss) are underdeveloped.