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Unstrung Heroes

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The la-di-da quirkiness that was the trademark of Diane Keaton's comic performances is very evident in the directorial eye she turns on this oddball coming-of-age heartwarmer, scripted by Richard LaGravanese (Fisher King, Bridges Of Madison County) from Frank's book about this normality-free family.

Twelve-year-old Steven, also known as Franz (Nathan Watt) is unable to bear witnessing the wasting disease of his lovely mother (MacDowell) or to connect with his distraught, emotionally inept father (Turturro), a ridiculed inventor and "misunderstood genius". So Steven seeks sanctuary behind the barricaded door of his two maniacally paranoid, colourfully deranged and dishevelled uncles, Danny and Arthur (Seinfeld's Richards and Maury Chaykin). Falling in happily with their craziness, he receives a strange nurturing.

This is an affectionate, funny and lively case for the unlikeliest people becoming heroes. And Keaton handles her appealing ensemble, the early 60s period and child's perspective of tragedy, love and reconciliation with a sure, gentle hand.

But Danny and Arthur, while comic and loveable, are too nutty to be true and will irk realists with a narrow credulity span. Pardon us for being so pedantic as to ask, but how do these weirdoes function, pay their bills or do the shopping? Neuroses, psychoses and fixations, while familiarly wacky and cute in movies, are seldom endearing in real-life. The performances are endearing, though, and the hanky-wringing journey of John Turturro's goofy-sad father Sid is as compelling as the boy's journey from childishness to understanding.

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