Years after an unspeakable tragedy tore their lives apart, two sets of parents (Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton, Reed Birney and Ann Dowd) agree to talk privately in an attempt to move forward. In Fran Kranz’s writing and directing debut, he thoughtfully examines their journey of grief, anger and acceptance by coming face-to-face with the ones who have been left behind.
In Mass, indie genre actor Fran Kranz steps into the writer-director role with an ease that is mind-boggling. It’s one of the most stunning feature debuts I’ve ever witnessed. The script is impeccably researched. As a mother who shakes each time a breaking news headline pops up on my phone, as a senior in high school when Columbine occurred, Mass hits on an entirely different level. Kranz helps us see the unseeable. He carefully weaves small pieces of information into a quilt so heavy we are left breathless. There is nothing sugarcoated about Mass. It’s one of the most intimate and emotionally accosting films I’ve ever experienced.
Jason Isaacs takes a logical approach as Jay. The arc of Kranz’s writing allows Isaacs to break this role wide open. It was akin to watching a teapot slowly come to a boil. Ann Dowd plays Linda. She is gentle, hesitant, and genuine in her grief and guilt. It feels like she’s trying too hard to appease and remain compassionate. Dowd’s best moments are when she’s in tune with Reed Birney. As Richard, Birney counters Dowd’s apologetic energy. He is defensive at every turn, to the point of unlikability. It’s his survival mechanism. Birney wears an air of toxic masculinity like a badge of honor. Martha Plimpton plays Gail with thoroughly justifiable guarded anger. She is seeking ownership and responsibility from Linda and Richard. Her pointed line of questioning makes her intentions clear as day. Plimpton owns every glance, sigh, and raw syllable uttered in Mass. It’s an entire emotional journey right before our eyes. It’s a performance that captivates. The chemistry between these four actors is something so rare. They understood the assignment, as they say.
The quiet, lingering moments in the first 20 minutes of the film are meticulously crafted to keep you stewing in anticipation of the inevitable storm to come. The entire film has a low registering hum and a palpable heaviness. As the plot is slowly revealed, politics seep into the conversation. The aftermath of trauma and grief are front and center. The discussion of mental health will echo in many households. The included social pleasantries on either end establish a grounded aspect, but it is that final unexpected 10 minutes that hit hardest. It’s a visceral catharsis. This is a master class in writing and performance. I would watch this on stage in a heartbeat. Mass is a portrait of four parents dealing with unthinkable loss. The most powerful aspect is the understanding that this conversation could be happening any day of the week nowadays. This is an emotional rollercoaster you cannot be prepared for. Mass brilliantly challenges the perspectives of cause and effect, blame, acceptance, forgiveness, life and death, and what parenthood means, deep in your soul. You will walk away changed.
Written & Directed by: Fran Kranz
Starring: Reed Birney, Ann Dowd, Jason Isaacs, and Martha Plimpton