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Unless: Faithful adaption of Carol Shields novel falls flat on screen

Hannah Gross in Unless.

2 out of 4 stars

Written by
Alan Gilsenan, based on a novel by Carol Shields
Directed by
Alan Gilsenan
Catherine Keener, Hannah Gross, Matt Craven

What would you do if your child refused to come home? What if they preferred, instead, to live on the streets?

In this faithful adaptation of Carol Shields's final novel, a Toronto couple (Catherine Keener and Matt Craven) learns that their university-aged daughter, Norah, has removed herself from the world, choosing to spend her days on the sidewalk outside Honest Ed's, holding a sign that says "Goodness." She won't talk. She sleeps in a nearby shelter at night.

There are strange marks on her wrists. What worked in Shields's quiet, contemplative novel about a family in crisis falls flat on screen. The movie is betrayed by faux-poetic voiceovers and an ending that aims for profoundness but comes across as pretentious. (It was fine in the book, mind you.) The film asks thoughtful, important questions – how do we face a world that is often so ugly? – but so does the novel; find a used copy of that, instead. (14A)

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About the Author
Books Editor

Mark Medley is the Globe and Mail’s Books Editor. Prior to joining the paper he spent more than seven years at the National Post, where he served as an arts reporter and books editor. More


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