THE STONE ANGEL (Kari Skogland). 90 minutes. Opens Friday (May 9). For venues and times, see listings. Rating: NNN
For the first half of The Stone Angel, an earnest and dutiful adaptation of Margaret Laurence’s beloved 1964 novel, you’ll relate to the word “stone” in that title.
It’s hard to feel much in writer/director Kari Skogland’s version of the tale of headstrong senior Hagar Shipley (Ellen Burstyn), who’s about to be sent to a retirement home and looks back on her privileged prairie childhood, her impulsive marriage to hottie Bram (Cole Hauser) and her subsequent harsh life raising two very different boys. Note: in the novel, Hagar’s a 90-year-old matriarch, whereas here she looks a decade or two younger.
Skogland, perhaps used to working in episodic TV, can’t find a suitable rhythm or visual style for the movie and seems hampered by the book’s multiple flashback structure. She has also dispensed with Laurence’s first-person point of view, which lessens our sympathy for Hagar.
But smart casting choices help make the film’s final half work. The striking Christine Horne really does seem to become Burstyn, while it’s haunting to see the aging alcoholic Bram played by Hauser’s real-life grizzled pa, Wings Hauser.
If you wait long enough, it’ll show up as a CBC Sunday night movie (where it’ll look just fine). Students, meanwhile, will probably see it in their high school English class in the fall.