With Imaginary Heroes, writer/director Dan Harris thinks he's moved into the same neighborhood as Ordinary People and American Beauty, but he's actually down closer to the end of the street by Life as a House and Moonlight Mile. In other words, he's got a bit of a pretender on his hands. All the ingredients for a quirky think piece on suburban dysfunction are there -- the family tragedy, the intergenerational romance, the parental drug use, the absurdist set pieces -- but the application is weak. Hence, the film is like that annoying new neighbor who tries to mimic the landscaping of the good houses, rather than coming up with his own design. Though none of the actors are particularly strong, Sigourney Weaver comes off best as the mother grappling with both past and fresh injuries. The other two central performances, by Emile Hirsch and Jeff Daniels, never rise above the level of glum and one-note. Although a revelation late in the film does account for it somewhat, Daniels' character is written as harshly goal-oriented, which is why he dotes on his son the gifted athlete and shuns his other son with exaggerated put-downs -- the script's lazy attempt to document parental neglect. Hirsch, such an effective everykid in The Girl Next Door, spends his whole time wallowing here. He does get a second attempt (following Girl Next Door) to act out an ecstasy trip, which has become a hackneyed device for the modern screenwriter. The fact that Harris uses it twice, both times wildly overplaying the resulting behavior, indicates how hackneyed his whole film is.
by Derek Armstrong review