film: Acting Without A Net 

Though the interconnected stories of "The Safety of Objects" are less than seamless, the fearless performances almost stop the heart.

She could be addressing any of her suburban neighbors in "The Safety of Objects," who one by one enact their own tales of love and isolation from within the walls of their oh-so-perfect-looking homes.

Within those houses we find Esther (Glenn Close), who obsessively tends to her comatose son while ignoring the needs of her troubled daughter (Jessica Campbell) and quiet husband. Then there's Jim (Dermot Mulroney), a lawyer who reaches the boiling point when he's turned down for promotion, but somehow doesn't notice that his young son has developed an odd connection to a Barbie doll. Helen (Mary Kay Place), a bored housewife, frets about growing older, and Clarkson's Annette, who's struggling to raise two children without help from her ex, but mourning a more recent loss.

Writer/director Troche ("Go Fish") has carefully assembled an intricate screenplay from a collection of short stories (all set in the same suburban development) by A.M. Homes. While the seams connecting these characters are often obvious and heavy-handed, Troche's affection for these flawed individuals shines through.

Yet the movie's most appealing trait is the showcase it provides for Clarkson, Place and Close, each of whom inhabits her suburban-weary mama role with perfectly pitched details and heart-stopping grace notes. Following on the heels of her wonderful performance in "Far From Heaven," Clarkson astounds with her ability to inject a world of pain and remorse into a single word (in this case, "Paul," the name of her ex). She's fast becoming one of the most honest actresses now working in Hollywood.

Place, with a disinterested grin tugging at her mouth, goes through the motions of putting the moves on a neighborhood handyman with hilarious effect. "I thought you might be ... hot," she utters with dead-on wicked timing, handing the object of her half-hearted seduction a drink on an endless summer afternoon.

And then there's the rarely seen Close, who brings her patrician features and trademark serene demeanor to the guilt-ridden, brokenhearted Esther, the perfect mother left devastated by unspeakable tragedy. If the resolution of Esther's tale feels too pat, that worry is fleeting, for Close finds the truth in every line she speaks. "God," says Esther, in a hoarse voice that's part laugh and part sob, "has a wicked sense of humor."

So does Esther, and if you watch closely, so does "The Safety of Objects." **** S

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