In Canada, the only film that dares to go toe-to-toe with Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Endgame is a limber, well-meaning flick named The Public, a star-studded drama written and directed by Emilio Estevez. If only it was a little bit more mature, then it would’ve been the right pick to counter program against the blockbuster juggernaut.
The Public is, kind of, about a superhero as well. Estevez plays Stuart Goodson, a Cincinnati librarian who cherishes his job and the people around him. Aware that the public venue serves as a safe place of refuge for the homeless, Stuart finds empathy in his fellow man as the city turns a blind eye towards the growing epidemic. However, as the weather becomes colder and grim, some homeless patrons pitch a sit-in at the library – a civil protest that begins as a plea for a good night’s sleep and turns into an act of activism led by Stuart over the course of the evening.
There’s no doubt that The Public serves as a much-needed reminder about humanity and the importance of compassion, but Estevez’s vision veers too often into cornball melodrama. Goodson is a solid protagonist for this story and Estevez does a commendable job steering the film with his nice-guy performance, but the supporting characters surrounding him are either thankless roles or quirky personalities to deter audiences away from anything that would make them too sad. The former disposable roles are, unfortunately, filled out by women who act as observers or exposition guides. The quirkier roles belong to the homeless people who are dealing with personal trauma or mental illness, giving the audience an uncomfortable grey area of what they can smile at.
To make things worse, Estevez includes bigger ensemble pieces to emphasize the emotions in pivotal scenes. The film’s musical finale is supposed to be encouraging for the characters involved and for the audience but, personally, I had to bear down and cringe my way through.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie