The Parting Glass is an intimate and affecting drama fueled by great acting and sharply-drawn observations of human behavior and familial dynamics.
Closure is a hard thing to come by in life, especially in the wake of tragedy. Actor Denis O'Hare understands this as well as anyone, having lost his sister when she committed suicide in 2010. It's also something he recognizes as a writer on The Parting Glass, a partly autobiographical drama in which he stars alongside his former True Blood castmate Anna Paquin. Her husband and fellow True Blood veteran, Stephen Moyer, makes his feature debut as director here, delivering a performance-driven piece that's unafraid to wrestle with the messy realities of how people (related or not) grieve when united by trauma. The Parting Glass is an intimate and affecting drama fueled by great acting and sharply-drawn observations of human behavior and familial dynamics.
The Parting Glass follows Danny (O'Hare), a theater actor, as he and his sisters (Cynthia Nixon, Melissa Leo) join their father (Ed Asner) on a journey to Missouri to collect their baby sister Colleen's (Paquin) belongings after her death in what's presumed to be a suicide. Rhys Ifans costars here as Karl, Colleen's estranged husband and the religious conservative outsider in a family of mostly liberals (Danny, like O'Hare, is openly gay and married), with Asner's patriarch serving as the middle-ground. The Parting Glass handles their interactions with a delicate touch, quietly acknowledging the tensions between them (like in a moment where Karl notices a young waiter flirting with Danny) without allowing the discomfort to spill over into melodrama.
Seasoned veterans of the screen (and, in O'Hare and Nixon's case, the theater), The Parting Glass' leads settle comfortably into their relationship as siblings, making it all the easier to believe the three of them really did grow up together. O'Hare's script allows their conversations to overlap and fold into one another, much in the same way that real-life discussions do all too often. This lets the actors really sink their teeth into their roles and pick out the nuances in their dialogue that say a whole lot about their shared history (from lingering resentments to the secrets they only share with one another). Ifans and Asner are equally strong in their supporting roles, especially when The Parting Glass reveals new layers to both characters through their recollections of Colleen.
Memory, in general, is another key element of The Parting Glass. People all too often search for closure in the fractured memories of their departed loved ones, and the characters here are no different. Moyer and his DP Guy Godfree are smart in the way they shoot the flashbacks where Danny and his family remember Colleen as she was in life. All too often, Paquin's face is either obstructed or out of focus, in a way that subtly imitates the inherent haziness and unreliability of memories - making it harder to find any peace of mind from them. This technique is especially powerful during a sequence where Danny and his father are filled in on the specifics of Colleen's death. Thankfully, The Parting Glass skips over showing the graphic details in the flashback that follows, leaving them to the imagination (where they're bound to be far more horrifying and intense to process, anyway).
If there's a weakness in The Parting Glass, it's that O'Hare's screenplay too often feels like a play refashioned as a movie script. This is most apparent in the film's relaxed pacing and loose structure, which lend themselves as much to the stage as the screen, and impinge the movie's efforts at achieving a sense of naturalism through its performances and vérité shooting style. There are other small flaws (like the too-late introduction of another family member to the story), but The Parting Glass' biggest issue is that its theatricality prevents it from excelling as cinema. Still, having to settle for near-greatness is far from a dealbreaker, especially in a work of art as personal, honest, and thoughtful as this.
As difficult as closure can be to find in the real world, The Parting Glass hopefully provided O'Hare and his loved ones with some. It might even do the same for those who've similarly experienced loss under circumstances beyond their control, and found themselves rummaging through their brains in an effort to piece together their memories of the person(s) they lost before moving on. The Parting Glass gets its title from the Scottish traditional song that refers to the final gesture of hospitality to a departing guest before they set out on their next journey. In the end, it's a fitting name for this authentic ode to the ones we bid farewell to along the way.
The Parting Glass is now available on Video On Demand and Digital. It is 95 minutes long and is not rated.